alex and mr kamath

10.03.13 | visiting anangpur

Over the weekend we had a great opportunity to learn about some clever building technologies that might come in very handy for our design. Both Aanchal from the British Council, and Shiban Ganju (the architect we are collaborating with on the project) suggested we get in touch with Prof Anil Laul – an Indian architect who has dedicated his career to developing appropriate technologies and runs regular hands-on workshops for architects. As soon as we called him up, he invited us over to his property on the outskirts of Delhi / Faridabad in a small village called Anangpur – which is where he lives, works and runs the workshops. Other than doing a workshop (which we unfortunately just missed) the best way to learn about his work, is simply by walking around the property and seeing the structural systems evident in his buildings. One of his employees, Tanya took us around pointing out things to notice and answering our (many!) questions. The thing we were most interested to understand more about were the funicular shell roofs he promotes. We had in fact seen these a number of months ago at the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun – but we had never seen the flat funicular shells that Prof. Laul has put into practice, and it was great to see these up close.

We were also keen to discuss the use of mud bricks, as pure abode was conspicuously absent from any of his buildings. In his opinion there’s a reason why people are moving away from adobe, and why fired brick is so ubiquitous (although he complained of the tyranny of the British brick, the size of which requires more fuel to fire than the traditional Indian ‘tile brick’ – and can’t be fired as evenly). His concern is in regards to the erodibility of mud, and he wasn’t convinced by the idea that as long as it’s constructed in the right way (for example with a waterproof course of fired bricks or stone at the base and deep eaves to shed rain water away from the building) it is a very durable material. He is promoting the use of thin cement slabs, named Ramlochan Tiles (after the mason who invented them) which can be cast in front of the mud brick in order to act as a waterproof membrane. He mixes cheap and readily available marble chips in with the cement to create a surface which addresses the aspirations of poorer communities who can’t afford to build with stone. It was really interesting not only to understand his building processes better, but to talk about the motivations behind them, and how best to put them into practice in the context of communities like Hariharpur.

We remembered during lunch, which Prof Laul kindly invited us to stay for, that Revathi and Vasant Kamath lived nearby…we cheekily rung them up to ask if we could pop round to visit their house, which we had seen so many photos of in publications and lectures. Luckily they were in, and it turned out weren’t just in the area, but actually living on the adjacent property, in the same village! Having completely rehabilitated the land, which had been used as a quarry and stripped of its eco-system, the Kamath’s house is now surrounded by lush trees and a huge variety of plants and animals. Not so enchanting are the monkeys, which were rounded up by the Delhi authorities and dumped on the outskirts of Delhi a few years ago. We arrived to find Revathi repairing her solar cooker, which had been stripped of its mirrors by monkeys (who it turns out are as vain as the rest of us!). They very kindly took us on a tour of the house, and invited us to stay for a delicious dinner. We left re-convinced of the beauty and durability of pure mud buildings – and are looking forward to moving to one of their construction sites in West Delhi at the end of the week to learn how to make bricks on a larger scale! Thanks both to Prof Laul and to the Kamath’s for their generous hospitality and time : )