Back to earthly homes

Blending tradition with modernity

Back to earthly homes

Main building corridor of Banasura Hill Resort in Wayanad district of Kerala

So you thought only poor people lived in houses made of mud or bamboo? Not at all.

Architects are now building fancy houses and resorts using mud, bamboo and other ethnic materials for their esteemed clients from even the tinsel world! For instance, Habitat Technology group has been building a two-room bamboo house on a cliff near Vizhinjam in Thiruvananthapuram for Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat. Many of mud exponent Prof Eugene Pandala's clients who opted for earth architecture to build their dream homes are affluent.  

Kerala's building architecture has in the last one decade showed signs of heading backwards to earth and nature. Mud structures have been making a comeback, that too, not as a low cost alternative but as chic, cosy homes and even tourist resorts which cater to high end tourists. Mud as a medium of construction is being popularised by a small band of enthusiastic architects like Prof Eugene Pandala and G Sankar. Their customers have mostly been the elite including IAS officials, businessmen and progressive intellectuals. Prof Pandala has now designed what is claimed to be the largest mud resort in Asia at Vellamunda in the bewitching backdrop of Banasura hills, 18 km away from Mananthavady in Wayanad district.

At first sight, the Banasura Hill Resort looks every bit rustic though in reality, it is a glorified tribal hamlet with gates made of bamboo poles and soft lighting almost resembling chimneys from outside. The main building of the report with a carpet area of 20,000 square feet is a massive two-storey structure made entirely of mud with a roof of bamboo and coconut palm fronds. What differentiates the building from an actual tribal hamlet located a kilometre away is that all the 31 spacious rooms, villas and suites are tastefully furnished.

Within the ‘muddy' walls are a multi-cuisine restaurant, coffee shop, conference hall, ayurveda spa, library, playing area and gym. Mud plastering over cement has also been employed in a couple of these facilities.

``Earth had been a tried and tested natural building material for thousands of years and in combination with latest building techniques can be used to construct modern ecological structures,'' says Prof Pandala who used rammed earth technique in the resort.

Sensible alternative

“In this technology, we use damp or moist earth with or without additive which in this case, is 5 per cent cement,'' he says. For those who doubt the strength and durability of the technology, Prof Pandala says, “earth is flexible because it can be moulded and shaped when wet, and rammed and pressed when moist, but it hardens when exposed to the sun making it a durable building material.'' An authority on mud structures, Prof Pandala is working on a government building in Madhya Pradesh being made entirely with mud.  

While it requires a lot of guts to actually go for mud to build one's dream house, variety of factors seem to have made people see sense.

The proponents of mud houses are mostly driven by an urge to build environment friendly dwellings as well as address the question of depleting natural resources as manifested in the acute sand crisis in Kerala. The mud to be used can often be excavated from the construction site as in the case of the Banasura Hill Resort. “If we have to excavate the mud from elsewhere and transport it, then the technology may not be viable,'' said Mr T Shankar, CEO of Assyst, a US-based software development company who also owns the hill resort.  

``Earth buildings are renewable in that sense because the material can be reused and recycled indefinitely as a building material and returned to the earth,'' says Prof Pandala.
He points out that mud is non-toxic, non-allergic, rot and termite proof, controls humidity and offers great sound isolation. Perhaps the crowning glory of the technology lies in the way it can balance fluctuations in temperature throughout the year, that is store both warmth and coolness.

Mr Shankar had initially envisaged the resort only as a quiet getaway for his company's staff and families located worldwide. However, he hit upon the idea of developing it into a resort after the structure blended harmoniously with the micro environment around giving it a stunning appeal.

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