mangalore tiles installed along the edge of the ring beam to protect the walls below from water

20.07.13 | back in delhi

After a number of weeks in Europe, we’re now back in India – in order to assess how things went in our absence and to hand over the project more officially to ITRHD. Work has been progressing steadily, and the team is about to cast the upper ring beam, which ties the first floor columns together.  In order to ensure lateral stability, certain in-fill walls (behind the water tanks, on the short side of the building, and between one bay at the front) have been built in fired brick before the ring beam is cast. However, we will leave the rest of the walls until the secondary roof structure has been completed. The two water tanks have been installed, one on each bay to spread the load across two of the barrel vaults, and all the internal piping is now in place. The septic tank is nearly complete, and just needs to be filled up with soil in the reed-bed area.

The heavy monsoon rains have inevitably created some delays (not just on site, but in terms of getting things fabricated and delivered). They have also caused some damage to the non-structural mud brick walls – which act as infill between the brick columns. Generally this was due to avoidable water exposure, as the plastic sheeting that was supposed to be covering the walls wasn’t installed properly. But in the case of the wall at the front of the building that collapsed, it was also due to the fact that the fired brick column hadn’t been built with a ‘toothed’ edge, for the mud bricks to tie into. Additionally, as it was adjacent to the staircase, it wasn’t braced on either side by a column.  In retrospect, it would have been best wait until the second floor roof (with its deep eaves on all sides) was erected before laying the mud bricks. Luckily no one was hurt, but safety has to be the top priority, and so when we visit the village next week, we will assess the structural integrity of the walls that have already been built, and in consultation with ITRHD’s architect Mr Shiban Ganju, will take a call about whether to keep them or rebuild them.

The other area that needs to be resolved and finalized is the bamboo roof structure for the first floor and verandah. As with the barrel vaults, our ability to implement this depends on securing the expertise of people with the relevant experience. Through the barrel vault mason, we were put in touch with two artisans who visited the site in mid-March. Although we spent a day going through the design with them, and they left the village promising to source the appropriate bamboo in Lucknow, in the end they never came back! However, since we have been away (and in between her three trips to oversee work at site) Kritika attended a bamboo workshop led by the architects Bhaskar Kandpal and Ashish Pant. They have very kindly agreed to help us refine the design, and spent the whole of yesterday morning running through the requirements and suggesting alterations to the proposed structure. They are thinking through some of the remaining details, and coming over again tomorrow morning to finalize the solutions. If we are confident that the structure is achievable (which in part depends of whether or not one of his artisans is able to join us at site), we will go ahead and make at least one section while we are in Hariharpur. It’s also important that they can verify the structural integrity of the design, as our UK engineers are not involved with this part of the building.

One other key objective of our time in the village is to continue to develop the community workshops, and ensure there is a clear strategy to take them forward. In light of the recent tragedy in an Indian public school, where a number of young students died due to contamination of the free midday meal, ITRHD would like to focus carefully on the design of the new kitchen. The plan is to integrate the design process with a educational strategy that will improve understanding of nutrition and hygiene within the community. This will tie in very well to the agenda for the workshops that the teachers have been running while we were away, which focused on ideas for the exterior school spaces, including a kitchen garden.

Over the next few days in Delhi Leika will be working with Ms Archana Capoor from ITRHD to carefully plan the workshops. Alex, Anshu and Clem will be meeting with the architects Mr Anil Laul and Ms Revathi Kamath to get advice about how to solve the issues in relation to the mud infill walls. Finally we will be officially handing over all our drawings and notes to ITRHD, so that they can take the project forward relatively independently. We will obviously be staying in touch from afar until the building is fully completed, but it’s important that Anshu and Arvind are in a position to manage the site on their own. We learned from our time away that it’s impossible to be involved on a daily basis through email and very crackly telephone calls! Ivar is due to arrive in Delhi on Tuesday, and on Wednesday we will all travel to the village – where we’ll be staying until 4th August.