the husband, who makes the bricks with the wooden mold

18.03.13 | adobe construction site

At the end of last week, after we’d sent our belongings off in a three-wheeler truck (crossing our fingers very tightly that they would arrive in Hariharpur three days later in one piece!) Leika and Alex headed to the village on the train, while Clem and Ivar relocated to West Delhi. They had kindly been invited by Revathi Kamath to spend a few days at one of her construction sites, to see first hand how adobe bricks are produced on a larger scale. The site was at the Gnostic Center, a retreat and learning center, where they are building a number of new accommodation units. The design is based on the idea of a large span, curving bamboo roof which is supported on steel columns, and thick mud walls below. While these walls aren’t the primary load-bearing structure, they will take some of the weight of the roof, which will improve their performance over time (the load acts to compress and compact the mud). Because the walls aren’t taking any heavy loads immediately, the bricks have only been drying for 5-10 days (up to two weeks is best for maximum strength).

There were three husband & wife teams (plus their kids!) working on the site in pairs. The women tend to do the preparatory work – carrying the bricks on their heads, or making the lumps of mud to be molded into a brick – whilst the husbands so the more skilled brick laying or brick making. The speed at which the brick-making duo worked was incredibly impressive, but spending a few days at the site made us realize how monotonous and hard the work is.

However, constructing the roof first means that the walls are being built under a large shaded canopy – which seems very intelligent given the rapidly increasing temperature! Our design for Hariharpur wouldn’t accommodate this, but we’ll definitely be putting up a shade of some sorts to protect us from the sun. There were a lot of other great details to learn from, including the brilliant Shankar Balram septic tank, which Revathi has adapted to include a reed bed and banana grove that filters waste water before it re-enters the ground. Overall it was a great few days – very informative, and a lovely peaceful place to spend a couple of nights. Thanks so much to Revathi for sharing her work with us!

Tomorrow Ivar will head to Hariharpur to prepare for the Visiting School with Alex and Leika, while Clem will stay in Delhi for the next week, to meet experts who might be able to collaborate with us on the project, as well as Vicky Ricardson from the British Council who’s on her first trip to India.