Alchemy in Architecture
Flat mud terrace roof earthen homes
Piercing heat gets under your skin on a summer day while you take a stroll through the Sunday market or Sandy, as it is called here. This is Chelur, a small village-town in the Tumkur district of Karnataka.
The Gubbi taluk in the Tumkur district has many village towns like Chelur, where people have been practicing vernacular architecture with natural materials for crafting beautiful homes that have been sustaining the inhabitants since time immeasurable.
One such village is Dodheri, located in a semi-arid region of Karnataka on the fringes of Tumkur. If you ever pass by the Bellavi highway this village would welcome you with a grand Ficus tree probably as old as the deep red homes surrounding it.
As I gradually walked the slope of this small Halli (village), I noticed the graceful translation of our mother earth, her soil, into a strong wall which then transformed itself into the roof. This was nothing more than Alchemy to me.
There standing proudly, on the edge of the road was a charming remnant of the local architectural tradition of Tumkur. This Mud house, now home to the cattle, is around 200 years old. Even without painstaking maintenance; which is an integral part of a natural building; it stands there bearing the test of time.
This house had beautiful thick walls that are made of adobe bricks, like most of the old homes in the region. Making use of the sun’s energy to convert a handful of mud to a brick is not only wise but extremely sustainable. Making adobe doesn’t alter the composition of the soil as a baked brick does, and as we can see adobe is still as strong as a brick, standing the test of time.
Then came the joists over the beams.The joists on top of the Neem beams were bamboo, which was abundant and easily available in those times. In terms of strength, bamboo is said to be the strongest plant both in tension and compression, almost comparable to steel. Solid bamboo is placed on top of the timber beams to create a strong joist shield. The beams and the joist are extended around the entire building to offer a overhang to save the adobe from rain. The overhang is generally not more than 1 ½ ft owing to the low rainfall.
On top of the bamboo joists was a well placed layer of twigs and coconut stem shells laid in the opposite direction to create a sheath for the next ingredient, Mud.
On top of this assembly is placed the mud, which is packed onto the layer of twigs and a beautiful flat roof is created. This layer of mud is generally very thick and slightly sloped towards an end to reduce the seepage of water during rains. Mud being an insulator is an excellent roofing material for this semi-arid region.
Since there were a lot of varieties of timber available in the forest, the mud houses had an array of timber members. Door frames, window frames were local timbers placed within the walls with simple joineries. The neem beams were also placed carefully and joined together with simple lap, half lap joints. Life was simple. I reckon, not a single nail has being used in the construction of this hand-made home.
Local houses back then were a community effort and the whole village came together to build houses. I think that is why it is so difficult to find ‘The Architect ‘of this building. We see a lot of traditional housing dying these days, being replaced by the cement revolution, much like how the green revolution crept into the country under a faux pretext.
There was a simple lesson that I learnt here, that the use of local materials, timber, soil, using techniques known to local craftsmen is the key to a sustainable building, which brings out the simplicity of a natural building.
This article is by Anushree Tendolkar . This post is part of our Ageless Village series written by different people sharing their experience of a village, street or a single home. If you have an interesting story to tell and would like to share your experience with Thannal on our blog, please contact us!