hammering in small pieces of gravel between these three layers to maintain the correct spacing (mortar can shrink)

11.05.13 | starting the barrel vaults

After much preparation, delay and anticipation, the first two barrel vaults are up! Thanks to Pankaj we were put in touch with Raman – a master mason from Delhi was has been on site with us for the past week. After a number of very frustrating delays with the metal form work that we had had fabricated, altered, and re-altered, we eventually decided to use the good old fashioned method of bamboo, mud and a thin layer of mortar for the form work. Although the plan had been to have all of this ready before Raman arrived, it was great to have him here as his experience was very useful!

Raman has been working closely with two local masons, Accha Lal and Bhanu, who have been trained through the making of these two bays – and will have to complete the remaining three bays next week on their own. We’re hoping that this knowledge transfer is useful not just for the completion of the master plan, but might revive the construction of barrel vaults in the area. Although prevalent in many of the older buildings, almost all roofs in contemporary construction are RCC slab – which are quicker and cheaper in terms of labour, but require excessive amounts of cement, and are far less beautiful.  At least one of this week’s visitors, a civil engineer from Azamgarh, seemed very interested…..so fingers crossed word spreads and there’s a demand that Accha Lal and Bhanu can respond to!

Meanwhile, at the other end of the building we were preparing the form work for the stairs and slide, and building the foundations for the verandah and column footings at the front. As soon as the form work comes down under the vaults on Monday, we’ll be completing the mud walls, installing doors – and will be ready for the mud plastering. Although this is something we did a lot of research during the mock-up for the exhibition in Delhi, we’re keen to learn how they do it locally. As we’ve been told many times in the past six months vernacular architecture is a lot like cooking – it’s not something you can be too rigid about and there are many regional variations. Leika’s been working with relatives of the school children, and the teachers, to acquire the local flavors (the main anecdote being that the cow dung in the village – freshly scooped from under the cow’s bum  – is much warmer than it was in Delhi!!). These mock-up walls will be used to try out various patterns using the traditional white rice paint that we’ve seen on some of the local mud houses.

For this week’s workshop, we asked the teachers to design the brick flooring for the verandah, and treat the remaining sheesham chairs with neem oil (boy did that smell take us back to Dehradun!). The first set of chairs had been sent home with a number of families to weave in their own time, and it was great to see the results! Although some of them were a little over-woven (the chairs ended up looking a little like bandaged car crash victims : )… it was really nice that they each had their own personality.

Although there’s been a lot of progress this week, and the building’s really starting to take shape – time is running out and we’re going to have to assess what’s realistically achievable before the rains arrive in mid-June. The plan has always been for us to complete two units (one toilet, one classroom) before we leave at the end of May, and for ITRHD to complete a third unit (the 1st floor classroom) before the monsoon. Although we have designed the bamboo structure for the 1st floor, it feels a little too ambitious to expect it to be constructed without us here on site overseeing things. It seems more responsible to complete the ground floor, plus a shaded verandah to protect the walls from sunlight and rain, and provide the funds for a third ground-level classroom to be build after the monsoon. One other option is to consider returning in the autumn to complete the 1st floor bamboo structure, but we’ll have to see how that works out with the rest of our lives (and the budget)! We’ll need to discuss this with ITRHD over the next week or so, but for now all our energy has to go into getting the rest of the roof up, and the interior spaces finished.

Nineteen days left, and counting………………..