Building with local materials

How much of what materials to buy? Best call in a contractor for your first structure so as to gain experience. Mine came over from Mambakkam nearby and gave me a shopping list and a quote for building. The list is a rough guide only; you will buy more or you will buy short but you will get started. There were coir ropes and fibre strands to buy. And for the roof, coconut leaf woven mats. These are sourced from farms all around the town. Buyers go around aggregating small quantities woven by folks in their free time, out of old fallen coconut fronds.

To give an idea of what went into the 700 sqFt space at pointReturn, here is the list: bamboos: 9 of 18′ long, 12 of 16′ long, 60 of 15′ long and 240 running feet of slender bamboo as purlins; 1600 large woven mats; 2 bundles of 1/4″ thick coir ropes.

On September 2, nine guys showed up early in the morning. They got busy with practiced ease. First, they lined up the centre posts and shored them up temporarily to align them. Runners were placed on pillars on either side. A ridge beam was tied to connect the three central posts. Poles were laid on the slope from ridge to runners on pillars. Everything was tied down with coir ropes; no nail or wires anywhere. Slender bamboo was laid under those on slopes and tied down. Reinforcements were given internally. The whole bamboo armature was tied to three steel rods I had set into the strong-room’s concrete roof. The structure was now integrated with the strong-room.

The guys broke for a brief lunch and then laying the roof mats began. Seven men climbed the frame and two men supplied them mats and tie-down fibre. Starting from the eaves they worked steadily up, chatting away, tossing jolly profanities and twits but not ever stopping. When the two slopes were matted, they worked on the gables and the ridge. One guy was trimming the mats at the eaves. By four in the afternoon, the job was done, the guys had washed up and headed home for their evening tipple.

That’s how simple shelter can be. Most every adult in villages is a builder. He builds his home with mud walls, available wood, and mats from his trees or his neighbours. Every three years or so, when his field has been sown and before the harvest, he renews the roof in a day. Admittedly these huts are dark, smoky and prone to fire. But no group of engineers or any government body has worked with him to innovate and improve within his domain of expertise. Instead, concrete structures have been made the object of his desire.

One way to make the building such as the one at pointReturn last multiple decades is to overlay the mats with thatch. Then, if the slope is pitched well to drain rain water, after 6 to 8 years, one just needs to peel away the old thatch and lay a new pile. A few mats and some bamboos attacked by insects may have to be replaced. I intended to thatch the structure. Thatch, besides extending life of the building is, being a breathing insulator, makes for a cool space.

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