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Vasantham; A Visual Poetry in Mud and Bamboo

Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan

Land is already under growing human pressure and climate change is adding to these pressures. At the same time, keeping global warming below C can be achieved only by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors including land and food, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its latest report on Thursday. 

Climate Change and Land  in a report finds that the world is best placed to tackle climate change when there is an overall focus on sustainability. There are ways to manage risks and reduce vulnerabilities. Increasing number of people is looking out for options wherein we could reduce the burden on the Nature. Sustainability seems to be a word of the century, but Sustainable homes are much more than what it actually means. It means renewable resources from building materials to a design that thrives in perfect harmony with our environment. 

Situated in the palm fringed southern coastal region of God’s Own Country  and Snuggled up among rubber estates, a little away from the usual hustle and bustle of the city is a beautiful home - a melange of Mud and Bamboo  named “Vasantham (Spring)”. A beautiful traditionally styled two-storey building in shades of earthy brown and green which imbibes the fragrance of mud. Surrounded by shades of dark to light green, it’s a vision of hope, a poem at its best. The owner is none other than the Programme Director of Thanal Trust, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, Mr. Sridhar Radhakrishnan and his family consisting of his wife Shoba and son Ambasreesh. Thanal is a public interest voluntary organisation working on sustainable farming, resource use managament and living ecosystems. Their Agroecology Centre in Wyanad is the centre for training and research on agroecology and agro bio diversity. Sridhar Radhakrishnan is an Engineer by profession and a person who has been actively involved in activities related to Environmental Health and Justice. At present he focuses on Campaigns, Policy and Advocacy. He is also a Convener in the movement in India called the Coalition for GM-Free India, which is striving towards keeping India free of GM crops and food, as well as advocating towards sustainable agriculture. 

“Vasantham” the Green home has been constructed by COSTFORD, another non-profit organisation working towards eco-friendly and sustainable constructions. COSTFORD has given utmost priority to sustainable materials in construction and the material strength. COSTFORD doesn’t mask the material used with texture or colour. Less Energy intensive material are used and thereby the cost is lessened, but environmentally more responsible. Technical innovations used here include combination of salvaged bricks, mud-lime mortar and bamboo reinforced surface beams. Natural factors such as building orientation, wind direction, vegetation, drainage, and contours of the land along with awareness of locally available materials were factored into project programming. 

Vasantham is built on a 21 cent plot. The total area of Vasantham is of 2300 sq ft and it cost him about 28 lakh at approximately 1200 per square feet, which is low even in Kerala standards. Bamboo gates and  Broken earthen tiles as steps give you a grand welcome at the entrance. Recycled materials of old broken, demolished homes have found a way into this home.  Sridhar explains the huge search for Recycled usable materials, which actually yielded him the beautiful home, reduced costs and also increased his knowledge base. 

Deep chocolate colour Mud walls have been built from the soil from the same plot of land. The walls were plastered with mud that had lime and husk mixed in it. That gave the beautiful texture and feel to the walls and .Epoxy has been painted over it. Lengthy Verandahs that resemble the olden homes gives it an old world charm and protect the house from the glare and heat of the sun for sure. The verandahs are held in places with Bamboo poles which have been used experimentally by the architect Sajan. Red oxide, blackoxide flooringshuge windows for cross ventilation and light, large airy living rooms, ecofriendly furniture’s made of rattan are some of the striking  peculiarities of this home. 

The construction was entirely made of Mature Bamboos. To keep the termites off the Bamboo and the Casurina frames have been treated with Boric Acid and Borax and then dried. The first floor roof is entirely made of Bamboo and Bamboo Poles. Poles support the roofs and they have made it very strong as it is the floor of the upper floor too. It is strengthened by Bamboo beams that support the ceilings .6 bamboos are screwed to make bamboo beams. Soil and slaked lime is used to re-inforced the ceiling. 

A stately home named Mani Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram was being demolished and Sridhar explains his happiness at procuring all the bricks needed for the construction from the builders. The polished teak wooden flight of steps and light shades was purchased from a second hand shop. He got lucky while buying the tiles from an outlet which was closing down. All modern amenities are available in the house. A Roofed verandah on the top floor protects the mud walls from rain. The upper floor has a huge balcony which gives us an abundant view of the surroundings. Sridhar and family are also proud of the fact that the vegetables used in their food come from their own Organic garden. 

The architect Sajan from COSTFORD says, that the  100-year-old wood are the best and the wood en materials used in olden homes were tougher and stronger  than the modern days. It is always best to recycle because the old woods are the best. Recycling could also be done for olden roof tiles and olden bricks too. All possibilities have been worked out to create a balance between an affordable design, keeping in mind the sustainability and resource conservation has been maintained in this beautiful home. 

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