Gobar Times
Cover Story

No house for Mr. Biswas

Why building houses with marble and concrete is not the smartest idea.

Cities in India are like magnets – attracting more and more people. Like a modern day Pied Piper, cities have a magic that draws people from villages and smaller towns. To live and work in slums and squatter settlements. In India today, more than 290 million live in cities and towns. And this number is ever increasing. There were about 40 metro cities in the country in 2001 as against 23 in 1991. By 2025 more than half of the population will be living in overcrowded cities.

Alongside the growing urbanisation, India, nevertheless, continues to live in her villages. As many as 629 million people live in some 580,706 villages, which works out to an average of 1,083 people per village. All these people need roofs over their heads. Low-cost housing is the proposed agenda. New housing required, as estimated by the planning commission, is about 77 million houses in urban areas and 63 million in rural areas by 2021.

Will it be possible to build houses from modern construction material like cement, steel, burnt bricks for so many? For one, even what is called ‘low-cost’ housing remains accessible only to the middle class. Much above the purchasing power of the majority. According to a World Bank estimate, 55% of Mexicans in Mexico city, 63% of Indians in Chennai and 68% of Kenyans in Nairobi could not afford the cheapest modern house built with modern construction materials.

That’s because the homes we like to live in demand concrete, marble and granite. Modern Taj Mahals. Traditional architecture and building materials are pooh-poohed. As President Nyerere of Tanzania said in his 1977 assessment of the Tanzanian economy: “The widespread addiction to cement and tin roofs is a kind of mental paralysis.”

Yet, surprise, surprise, nearly half of the world’s population still lives in buildings where mud has been used as a major building material. Is it possible for us to get out of the mind set that looks down upon humble ideas that have stood the test of time? Can we learn to learn from the past, however old-fashioned it might seem? Can we think as clearly as mud?

    What is the embodied energy of your home?   

Iron, glass, steel, aluminium, cement, marble, burnt bricks are very energy-intensive. The process of extraction, refinement, fabrication, and delivery of these material are all energy consuming and this use of energy adds vast amounts of pollution to the earth, air and water.

The total energy consumed during a process is known as embodied energy – offering a general guide to the amount of pollution involved in its manufacture. Typically, low energy material are less polluting.

So have you ever thought of what material your house is made of?



    Why Mud?    

Mud is a reasonable, acceptable, strong, durable, basic building material that has stood the test of hundreds, if not even thousands, of years of time.

  • In Devon County, England, there are an estimated 40,000 cob structures (mud huts) still standing, many dating back over 500 years. They are best recognised as the popular English white stuccoed or whitewashed cottages covered with thatched roofs.
  • Jericho is the site of the earliest evidence of building with sun-dried mud bricks, dating from the eighth millennium BC. Firing bricks was not practiced until the third millennium BC, and then only occasionally because it was costly in terms of fuel.
  • The world's largest raw-earth building is the Great Mosque in Djenne, Mali. Built 1907.
  • The Great Wall of China is largely constructed of earth.
  • The Chaco Canyon National Monument in northwest New Mexico is an area of 16 sq. miles and contains adobe architecture monuments dating back to around 500 AD. These were inhabited by a tribe called Anasazi Indians. Using a combination of native rock and adobe, they built structures housing the entire tribe in what was in fact one continuous
  • Tipu's Fort in Bangalore, Karnataka, is known for the beautifully carved arches on the gate walls. Originally built in mud by Kempe Gowda in 1537 AD, the fort was extended and fortified by Tipu Sultan in stone. Much of the fort had been destroyed by the British.

Anyone can build with mud


    “Use it, experiment with it, have fun with it and drop the idea that it is only for the rural poor”   

Laurie Baker, the master earth builder from Kerala tells us why mud

Modern building material are energy intensive. The 'properly' built houses of today are made of items like reinforced concrete, cement blocks, burnt bricks and so on. These are not naturally available material and have to be manufactured. The manufacturing processes of these material are very energy-intensive. Enormous amounts of energy in some form of fuel. Large quantities of cement are imported from Korea, as we do not have enough cement.

Although bricks are made of mud, we burn or bake them before we build. If you build an ordinary middle class brick house, you are cutting down two to three large trees to bake the bricks used in building the house. In many parts of the country, firewood is a very scarce commodity. Therefore we ought to develop methods of house construction using materials that are not expensive, are not imported and do not use a lot of our natural resources to provide the fuel for manufacturing these building materials.

Mud is one such material. It is a readily available natural resource. It is right there on the site of construction and all you need is manpower that can convert the mud that is lying around on the ground into a wall to surround you and protect you. Even if the surface soil is unsuitable, there may be suitable soil beneath. You can also bring mud from a different site nearby.

Or add stabilisers so that it is made suitable. A 25 sq m house on a 250 sq m plot would require about 60 cubic metre of mud for its walls. By digging all over the plot, except the basement area, to a depth of 0.266 m (10 and a half inches) you have the right amount of soil to build the house.

There are more houses made of mud in India than of any other material. So why have we stopped using it? Actually we have not stopped using it. Many rural families and many of our poorer people still use mud – but official or Government housing schemes and the 'middle class' rarely use it. WHY? Firstly because people are not building their houses themselves.


For an ordinary middle class brick house, you cut down two to three large trees, that are chopped and burnt, to bake the bricks used in building the house


They get others to build it for them. They have jobs to do and the older children also cannot help because they carry on their education until they are grown up. So there is no time to do and make things. Secondly because we seem to have become more ‘class conscious’ and MUD is connected in the people’s mind with “the poor” and with “poverty”. Who will marry my daughter if I live in a mud house?

Mud is the material for the 21st century. The plus point of mud as an old fashioned material is that it has been tested and tried over the years whereas cement and concrete has been in circulation for less than 100 years. If all of us are to live in the 21st century with a roof over our 700-800 million heads we would be able to do it only if we put mud into its rightful status.

One of India’s major tasks is to provide a home to everyone. If we are to build the houses with burnt bricks, concrete and cement – it would add to the vast energy crisis and to the overall cost of housing for millions of people in the country. If only we apply our 20th century know-how and techniques to our age-old mud, we can solve this housing need without adding to our energy problem. Mud can be used to make fashionable houses such as in Australia where there are many mud houses which are
not distinguishable as such.

Therefore everyone – rich, poor, lower middle or upper class – should understand and accept that mud is a reasonable, acceptable, strong, durable basic building material that has stood the test for hundreds, if not thousands of years of time.

So don’t say mud is old-fashioned. You can make it the latest fashion.

Extracted from an article by Laurie Baker, 1981

Laurie Baker, India

Born in Birmingham, England on March 2, 1917, Laurence W. Baker went on a cycling tour of Europe when he was seventeen. A tour that changed his life. He was fascinated by the landscape, and the differences in the houses and soon joined the Birmingham School of Architecture. During World War II, he became involved in the treatment of leprosy in West China.

Meeting Mahatma Gandhi for a short while made him come to India, where he married a doctor from Kerala, Elizabeth Jacob in 1948. While they worked with leprosy patients, Baker went into problems of rural India and traditional architecture. Today, Baker model houses can be seen across the country. He also went into the industrial field and his work on alternative energy systems in building grew.

Hasan Fathy, Egypt

Hasan Fathy’s book Architecture for the Poor, published in 1969, was the first serious attempt to focus on mud architecture. Fathy’s fascination with mud began when he was a young man, seeing the peasants’ homes on his father’s farm.

“The peasant built his house out of mud, or mud bricks, which he dug out of the ground and dried in the sun...We, with our modern school-learned ideas, never dreamed of using such a ludicrious substance as mud for so serious a creation as a house.” Today Fathy is an inspiration for many earth architects the world over.

He encouraged a deeper respect for the use of tradition in architecture. Noting that the word ‘tradition’ itself comes from the latin ‘tradere’, to carry forward or transfer and thus implies the cyclical renewal of life.





-a-liscious fun

Squish! Mud season will soon be with us. In some parts of the country, with the weather going crazy, it's arrived... Squish! Dark, brown, gooey, ‘who’sgoing- to-wash-your-clothes!’, sticky, good old mud.

Mr Mud is a fun person to know...

    All is Mud   

Ganesh or Ganapati is the son of Lord Shiva and Parvati. According to Hindu mythology Parvati created a little boy out of mud and gave him life. This was Ganesh.

Ghatam, one of the most ancient percussion instruments of South India, is a mud pot with a narrow mouth. Made mainly of clay baked with brass or copper and iron filings, the size of the ghatam determines its pitch. The pitch can be slightly altered by the
application of clay or water.

Antarctic mud reveals ancient evidence of global climate change (Stanford Report, January 16, 2002). New geologic evidence from deep-sea mud deposits strongly suggests that Antarctica had periods of extreme warming and cooling long before the invention of automobiles.

Varaha, is a wild boar, who pushed mud up from the sea to create land, according to Hindu mythology. Maidu legend says Ultrama, a Turtle, created the first land with mud from the bottom of the primordial ocean.

According to Greek myth, Pandora 'all-gifted' was the first women on earth. She was created by Hephaestus, the god of craftsmanship by order of Zeus with mud and water and was gifted talents from all the gods; Aphrodite gave her beauty, Apollo music, Hermes persuasion and so on, hence her name – Pandora 'all-gifted'.

Prometheus was spared imprisonment in Tatarus because he had not fought with his fellow Titans during the war with the Olympians. He were given the task of creating man. Prometheus shaped man out of mud, and Athena breathed life into his clay figure.

QUESTION: How much mud is in a round hole that is 9 feet deep with a diameter of 3 feet?

ANSWER: None. You make a hole by digging out the mud, so the hole is empty.



our mother may not agree but...

    KIDS NEED    DIRT!   

Shiny clean Baby vs Mucky Baby

German scientists put in hours of research to find out what kids already knew. Mud is good for health! They have discovered that ultra-clean modern lifestyles are to blame for an increase in allergies and diseases related to the immune system. Sabina Illi of the University Children's Hospital in Munich and her colleagues analysed data from a study of 1,300 children born in 1990. "Daily contact with bacteria and viruses can be good for a child", says Illi. Immunologist Graham Rook of University College, London, thinks that contact with the bacteria in soil and water is essential for regulatory cells in our immune systems to develop properly. But, Rook says, parents shouldn’t get too obsessive about rolling in the mud either!

Kids who are overly hygienic appear to be at increased risk of developing wheezing — a symptom of asthma — and the allergy-related skin condition eczema. The investigators found that children with the highest degree of personal hygiene — those who washed their faces and hands more than five times per day, cleaned before meals, and bathed more than two times each day — were the most likely to develop eczema and wheezing between the ages of 30 and 42 months. Scientists are working on a vaccine made from Mycobacterium vaccae, a substance found naturally in soil.

Dr Ratko Djukanovic, a respiratory physician working at Southampton University, took up on the research after Dr Rook and team. "Allergy results from an imbalance between the good stimuli of the immune system, which modern living has taken away, and increased exposure to allergens because of the way we build our homes. This vaccine could compensate for the change in the way we relate to the environment,"

Dr Djukanovic says. According to Tufts University microbiologist, Dr Stuart Levy, "The ingredients in soaps and cleansers intended to fight bacteria could promote the growth of drug-resistant 'superbugs' that might otherwise be kept in check with just a vigorous scrub". So, next time Mom shouts 'Bath time', you know what to say!

Krishna ate mud

One day, Krishna, the son of Yashoda was toddling around while his mother was churning butter. Suddenly she saw him put in a handful of mud into his mouth. “What are you doing?”, she screamed as any other mother would, “Open your mouth”. He opened his mouth and she saw all creation, the earth and its mountains and oceans, the moon and the stars, and all the planets and regions.

She was wonderstruck to see the land of Vraja and the village of Gokula, herself standing there with the child Krishna beside her with a wide-open mouth, and within that mouth another universe, and so on and on and on. "0 God!" she thought.

"Am I going mad or is this a dream or the magic wrought by this strange child of mine?” "Krishnaaa" she cried. He shut his mouth, and in a thrice, she had almost forgotten what she had seen. "Why have you been eating....." She stopped in mid-sentence. What a fool she was! This child carried the whole universe within himself and she was worrying about a few grains of sand!



Slider Heading: 
No house for Mr. Biswas