Every expedition requires a basecamp at which to stay close to the target; to plan and begin the climb. pointReturn site has lacked even a basic shed. Every tool and requirement has had to be brought in and taken away at the end of the day. The site is also devoid of human habitation for close to a kilometer all around, and so susceptible to petty thefts. A rudimentary space to lock away basic requirements was therefore decided as necessary. Otherwise there is little justification for a time and money guzzling mini fortress in bricks, cement and steel.
The decision became a little easier to make, by designing the strongRoom to have more purposes than just being a store. The windmill is pumping what water there is at the aquifer. Supply is naturally unsteady. There is a need therefore, to store the water as it comes, at an elevation so that it can be made to flow by gravity to wherever, whenever it is required. Why not have the strongRoom’s concrete roof hold water storage tanks into which the windmill can discharge? A store for water above and for tools and equipment below. At Muttukkadu I had four old plastic tanks lying disused. They are of 1,000 litre capacity each. They will soon sit atop the stongRoom. Also, the roof would be a good place to locate a solar water heater or photovoltaic panel.
The walls will be made sturdy, using bricks and cement plaster. There will be a steel door and two ventilators. The space within will have shelves along the walls. The 10′ x10′, 10′ tall structure will stand on stone foundation and a foot high plinth. It will need cement, steel and 3/4″ stone aggregate for making concrete. I was reluctant for a long time to pick these materials that are quite easily the symbols of environmental degradation. Worse, they are seducing people away from other, softer building options. In the end I justified the decision to myself, by promising to atone for it in future constructions at pointReturn.
Soon as the strongRoom is done and comes into use, I plan to build a large space entirely out of local stone pillars, bamboo poles and coconut thatch bound by coir rope. This tall, large structure will be built close and secured to the strongRoom. There was some poetic comfort in imagining the concrete structure as only an anchor to the natural building.
As I began to procure materials – cement, stone aggregate and steel, mostly-, I realised why I must avoid these materials in the future. The reasons needn’t be environmental at all, but economic. The construction boom all around has made prices climb on a daily basis. Maybe this is the way the debate will be played out – the violent industrial materials would simply become unaffordable, just as chemical fertilisers have. I bought cement in three lots in ten days time, and each time the price was higher than before. Steel, too. I had thought a 10’x10 room would cost little; how awfully surprising, the experience!