Post 426 – by Gautam Shah
Architecture and structures of mud or clay, for every conceivable purpose, exist in all parts of the world. In hilly regions of the world clay sediments have been used for packing the joint and as a masonry course leveller. Mud or clay is used because of the abundant supply, near zero cost of procurement, wet plasticity, mould-ability, insulating qualities, high thermal capacity, non toxicity, ecological friendly nature and simplicity of application. Mud as a forming material for architecture, structures or ceramics have some drawbacks like, shrinkages on drying, i.e., cracking, poor weathering qualities, lack of homogeneity in dry state, high water permeability -hygroscopic, poor bonding to a substrate -peel off, vulnerability to white ants and insects.
Mud has seen renewed interest during the last Six to Seven decades. First interest in architecture was for its abundance and simplistic technology. Later, the material was favoured for its insulative qualities. During the last 4o years the mud buildings are being favoured for their Eco-friendliness, chiefly the recycle-ability aspect of it. The ideology of sustainability, with its varied interpretations, has supported experimentation for different uses.
Some basic techniques of Mud construction are identified. These are: Sod, Rammed earth, Cob (cobb or clom), Adobe, Wattle and daub Compressed earth block methods. These techniques differ in details, from region to region, type of soils, natural moisture content and availability of additional water, additives, reinforcements and support form-work within reach. The mix design and forming techniques also depend on building elements (wall, slab, etc.), architectural elements and surface finish or applique decorations.
Mud architecture presents fascinating forms. The quality of space formation, the suitability for range of basic architectonic elements, adaptability to different usages, and the universal availability, make mud a very coveted material. The love affair is very poignant during the academic period of designers. The passion, however, gets muted over the years, for variety of reasons, such as lack of the clientele, the place, scope and sponsorship for experimentation and the irrelevance of the technology at locations where the educated designer will operate. There are many other reasons for a failed take off for ‘low technology and eco-friendly’ endeavours. Mud, is reckoned to be a sustainable material, of very relevant (‘green’) technology, non toxic, universally available and completely recyclable material.
These concepts remain valid so far as one can use the mud architecture concurrently with matching ‘lifestyle’ if one is conducting. A personal habitat of mud and to maintain (sustain) it for a long period, are two different things. A mud building is a very fragile entity and needs day to day care. Such concerns cannot be assigned to any outsider or agency. The cost of daily upkeep can turn out to be very high. And even if one can afford the cost, (which could be equal to the cost of a new structure), takes lots of time, practically a full time vocation.
Mud built-form cannot be conceived as a drawn plan or scheme. A person who constructs it must improvise it on own. The execution of such form cannot happen quickly, and during the period whatever that has been constructed will need updating and improvisation. Some of the key elements of built form, material behaviour, form and space organization exist in the society that has been using mud for generations. These innate capacities can be reinforced by being not only an active participant on the site, but by being an inhabitant of the entity. Only an inhabitant of the mud architecture can sustain it.
Designers cannot, and must not meddle in mud architecture design or execution. A design student may be asked to design one and perhaps execute it, as a learning exercise. The fashionable word coined by teachers who never practice, or have never done, is “hand on experience” in material-form-and the technological implications.