Building with mud at Gumalapuram

by Haritha Rajan (Architect, Bhoomi Network)

Building with mud at Gumalapuram

I have been passionate about traditional architecture and building with mud for a long time - post my course in Architecture, by learning and experiencing the co-relation between built environment and nature. Science, art and living in harmony with Nature come together in mud buildings…but it has hardly any place in modern life. So I was happy to get the opportunity to build a few mud buildings and fine tune my understanding of mud – the methods of making it strong and durable, its multiple hues and possibilities.

The structure that I was involved in building at our Organic Gurukul in Gumalapuram can be viewed as a Community Kitchen and Dining space. The vision is to view it as a warm and inviting multi-purpose space where activities and programs involving the city folks, local youth and villagers can be conducted. Bhoomi’s long term intent is to use the Organic Gurukul both as a learning space for anyone to learn organic farming and natural living and also for local women to be involved in livelihood activities.

Planning of this dining space started with a discussion with Seetha, founder of Bhoomi Network to have this structure as sustainable and natural as possible. Out of the discussion came the idea that we source materials that are truly local to the place and use natural and traditional techniques that are in tune with the local environment to build the structure. In fact, most of the materials that were used, like the soil for the walls, herbs in the treatment mixes, etc. were all used found within the Gurukul itself.

Another plan that came up during the discussion was to build the structure with the help of volunteers. The aim thus was to have not just the local community help us but also Bhoomi’s community and volunteers be involved in its construction. The wonderful thing about using natural building techniques is that they are simple and anyone can be a part of it. There is no specific need for ‘expertise’. And it was a community driven project in which close to 40 people joined in that included Bhoomi College fellows, Prakriya School kids, volunteers from Bangalore city and workers like Elango, Mohan and others who have been part of the Bhoomi team for more than a decade.

I found the experience of anchoring the volunteer program to be extremely enriching. I had for long shied away from facilitating sessions on natural building and other such topics on eco-design and initially was circumspect as to my ability to do a good job at it. To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed taking sessions for the volunteers on natural buildings and also getting my hands dirty with them when needed. It was heartening to see many of the volunteers being keenly interested in making such structures for themselves now and in the future. It left me with a sense of optimism about a growing community of people who wish to live harmoniously with nature including in our homes.

I also enjoyed the diversity of the volunteering group. It included youngsters, young families with children and some people well beyond their ‘youth’ who showed unbridled enthusiasm when it came to doing hands-on work. Mind you, some of this work was done in sweltering conditions but not even the dry heat could dampen the spirits of these volunteers.

But working on the building wasn’t all sweat and toil!  Mornings and evenings with the volunteers were spent walking in the nearby forest, viewing the sun set from our favourite spot on the rocks and sometimes doing impromptu dance around a bonfire.

All in all, the experience left me hopeful that the most enjoyable way to build a community is to ‘build it together’.

Volunteer feedback

“Thank you Bhoomi for giving me an opportunity to volunteer this weekend.

@Haritha you did a great job explaining various forms of earth work and how it varies depending on factors like water, availability of raw material and skills/ workforce. That was quite insightful.

@Ashok’s stories on Gumlapura makes me to read more on that place. I didn’t know that place was of that significance till now.

@Cooking team, I felt I did so little work to deserve such healthy n tasty food. Big Thank you to the entire team for making this weekend joyful and meaningful one!”

“Wonderful experience with soil and like minded people. Thank you Bhoomi for the opportunity. I hope to contribute better next time. – Subbu”

“2 days gone so fast… wonderful opportunity to touch, feel, smell and play with the soil. I guess we got more (Good ambience, fresh air, water, community and new circle) benefit.

@Haritha thanks for your guidance. I am eagerly waiting to see and show the video to my family and friends.

@Ashok and team big thanks for the hospitality and support.”