passing the steel I-girder up to accha lal

04.05.13 | ready for the roof

We’re relieved to have got through what’s probably been the most anxious week so far… not least due to the absence of one of our most crucial team mates, Kriti Ji. Things didn’t quite fall apart when she was in Delhi for a few days, but suffice to say we were very happy to have her back on site!

The main goal was to get the ring beam cast, and allow it to cure for at least four days before the arrival of a master barrel vault mason from Delhi, who’ll be training the locals we’ve been working with.  Casting at height is a challenge in itself – but we also had to design, fabricate and install all the metal footings for the first floor bamboo structure before the pour. After copious emails to our engineers in London (who no doubt have their hands full with their own work!) we finally settled on a system of threaded rods, cast in to the beam at regular intervals, to which we will attach steel footings (at the back) and a timber batten (at the front and side) at a later stage. It sounded simple enough, but the ongoing wheat harvesting means finding labour – for everything from transport, welding to metal bending – is a challenge. Add to this linguistic confusions, a local habit of being extremely optimistic about production / delivery times, our habit of being extremely optimistic about scheduling, and you’ll begin to understand why things became a bit delayed!

By the time Kritika returned mid-week we’d managed to get the rebar cages up into the (very shabby-looking) shuttering. After a lot of measuring, leveling, and readjustments, it was eventually time to install the bolts –  and the sleeves through which the tie rods will pass. The main reason we had decided to pour the ring beam above the toilet, rather than the whole building, was to accommodate the mason’s schedule – but in fact it turned out to be very advantageous to complete a small section first, learn from the process, and improve for the rest of the building.  One thing that now seems obvious is to pour the beam before laying the adobe brick walls below, to avoid damaging them during the casting. Although we had covered the walls in tarpaulin in advance of last week’s rain, this was removed by the shuttering guys for some reason, which explains why it ended up inside the formwork! While this succeeded in making the shuttering water-tight(ish) and prevented the adobe walls to erode and collapse, it has resulted in a slightly ridiculous shopping bag surface on the beam…and didn’t solve how to cure the concrete with water over the next week.

Yesterday we added a section of sloping mortar along the edges of the the beams, against which we will lay the first bricks for the barrel vault. We’ll need to wait until Monday to start the vault, but this gives us time to set up the curved formwork between the beams. This morning our master mason, Raman, arrived from Delhi and (to our relief!) swiftly took control- so we’re hoping this will be more precise and thorough than the shuttering….

Meanwhile, off-site Leika has begun documenting all the traditional cob houses, meeting their owners and marking them on a map. The idea is to gather this information as a record for ourselves, but also for ITRHD. As well as building new structures such as the school, we’re encouraging them to develop a program to protect some of the existing buildings in the village. She has discovered some really beautiful houses with great details and finishes – and it’s really nice to see where many of the people we’ve been working with are living.

At the same time, Leika and the teachers started to visit parents at their homes to find out their occupation, skills and to remind them about Saturday workshops. We came across labourers, painters, carpenters, weavers, etc. apart from the majority who are farmers. Such information is highly beneficial to increase the engagement of parents and we are now able to directly contact parents for specific skills and hiring opportunities on site. In addition, it was very interesting to meet parents at home and to grasp their living environment.

Today’s weekly workshop was a little disappointing, as none of the weavers who were supposed to teach the parents showed up. It was particularly frustrating given the parents had taken the time to come along and shown their commitment to the project, only to have nothing to do. It turned out, however, that many of them had a friend or nieghbour who knows how to weave, and so they each took a chair home to complete over the course of the coming week. We’re excited to see the variations in the finished products, and be able to put them into action at the school as soon as possible.

We also had some unexpected visitors this week from the Bank of Baroda, who have agreed to sponsor the rest of the master plan for the school – which is great news!