Much has been said lately about the ugliness of mass-housing schemes in India. Critics have also pointed out that die schemes for mass-housing have ignored local and traditional wisdom1 not only in design and aesthetics but more importantly in the area of techniques and materials of construction.

The materials used in modern construction, particularly cement, involve very high energy consumption for their manufacture. It has often been pointed out that these materials are economically incompatible with the' needs of the large majority of the Indian people, particularly the urban and rural poor, for whom most of the governmental mass-housing schemes are designed. Further, the' manufacture of modern materials such as cement are undesirable from the point of view of their negative impact on ecology. It is for these reasons that mud, which has been a building material for has again become the focus of attention of many governmental and non-governmental agencies in India.

Mud architecture is perceived as fan appropriate and sustainable solution to the housing problem as:

(1) it is of low cost and makes use of local materials and techniques (2) it has many desirable features such as excellent heat insulation and good compressive strength (3) it is environmentally sound and energy efficient and (4) it is lab our intensive and therefore capable of generating opportunities for employment, higher income and self-help in housing.

An International Conference on Mud Architecture (ICMA) was organized in Trivandrum on 25th - 28th November, 1987. The conference was jointly organized by the following: Ministry of Urban Development of the Government of India, Government of Kerala, Housing and Urban Development Corporation: All India Housing Development Association and Economic at Humanism, Lyon, France:

We shall here present an outline of the various technical papers presented at the ICMA (about seventeen papers have been compiled in the volume entitled "Technical Papers"). In the foreword to the technical papers, the subject of the Conference has been stated as "Redefining and restating the relevance of mud as a building construction medium in all its forms and the upgrading of technologies and institutional support work". The papers have been grouped under four different heads:

1. Policy: The social, economic, environmental and energy implications of building in mud.
2. Technology: Mud technology and its up gradation.
3. Institutional Support: Institutional support for propagating mud as a relevant building medium for urban and rural housing.
4. Documentation: Identification of international experience and case studies suitable for documentation.


The first paper titled "Back to mud - a step forward", by S.K.Sharma, (HUDCO, New Delhi) reviews the housing situation in India and examines the role of mud. This paper also serves as a preamble to all the following papers.

Between one fourth to half of the urban population in most large cities of India lives in make-shift shelters, squatter settlements or slums. The situation in rural areas seems to be far worse, with about 75% of the houses being classified as semi - or non-permanent construction. Total housing shortage in India will be more than 40 million units by the turn of the century. Of these, some 30 million will be in rural areas and nearly 10 million in urban areas.

Currently, in India, approximately 80% to 90% of the rural and 30% to 40% of the urban population lives in mud houses. Over 65 million of the nearly 118 million houses in India are of mud construction. Most of these mud houses are constructed according to the principles of traditional architecture, which ' has evolved in response to local environment, climate and way of life. It is integrated into the social system.

Government housing programmers, though prominent in Governmental plans, are hampered by a number of limitations. Lack of adequate finance for keeping pace with the growing demand for shelter is a chief limitation. Most formal construction programmers are with brick, cement and concrete - based on technologies which not only raise the cost of housing but also involve high consumption of energy, which is a scarce item.

With this in view, the paper cautions that it would be wrong to reject mud on the ground that it is an outmoded building material and suggests that mud be fully integrated into the process of planning and development. However, the author points out that "mud architecture" is not to be identified with "substandard" mud houses - "ill prepared, ill-applied mud with a poor roofing system" which a large number of poor live in. A mud house "can be an inviting home with various modern facilities in a pleasant environment". The author adds, "so long as it relates to the needs, life style and affordability of the occupier, it would be better than what more durable technologies can offer".

Explaining the revival of interest in mud "which has been around for a long time and which has been abandoned in favor of new cement-based materials", the author calls for a reassessment of the relevance of traditional building materials like mud in the context of modern technology and construction methods. He adds, however, "It is not being suggested that house design should return to principles that were utilized prior to 20th century. Indeed they cannot, as the present social, cultural and economic conditions are not the same" (emphasis added). In other words, the importance of mud is in its appropriateness only as a building material. But the author immediately goes on to say "The unfortunate shift to so-called modern values has found little use for traditional knowledge and building systems that are well-adapted to an environment. We must substantiate the relationship between climate and many of these time - tested principles so that their usefulness is not lost".

After high-lighting the important advantages of mud housing the author goes on to state some of its so-called shortcomings: (1) since mud is eroded easily by water, it may not be suitable for use in areas with high rainfall or possibilities of flooding (2) it has low tensile strength which, means mud roofs are difficult to make (3) it is susceptible to damage by rodents etc(4) Mud does not grip wood properly, so that gaps develop around wooden doors and windows in mud walls. Hence mud houses have few openings and are often poorly ventilated. Where walls are made of reinforced mud, wattle plastered with mud, or made of sun-dried bricks, this problem is not severe. (5) Mud soaks up water and becomes heavy. Consequently wooden beams supporting roofs tend to sag, leading to cracks in the roof and leaking.

These disadvantages may be overcome by improvements in design and technology such as: (1) Stabilization of mud - other materials is added to improve its strength and water-resistance. (2) Architecture - narrow streets, closely packed houses, overhanging roofs etc. (3) Structural techniques - walls of mud are sometimes made up by ramming successive layers of earth between shuttering, which makes the wall bear weights better.

Next a variety of constraints which hinder the use of mud for construction, are enumerated. There are often governmental regulations which prevent the use of mud, and the provision 'of institutional loans and grants. Rejection of mud as a construction material is also made on so-called objective and technical grounds apparently based on the poor durability of mud over time, which may lead to increased maintenance and repairs. Another reason is simply the lack of adequate knowledge of handling mud for building construction. There is some subjective factors as well which result in the rejection of mud for construction.’ One such is the "desire to conform to notions of what is modern in construction, which leads to an imitation of western models and the use of materials which are considered modern". Finally, traditions in building arc no longer passed down from generation to generation.

The different areas of application of mud,!in building construction - such as walls, mortar and plaster and roofs, are also outlined. There are several well-known methods of application of mud for walls - direct shaping; compacted or rammed earth; adobe or sun dried bricks; wattle and daub; compacted soil block; puddle clay and cob; extruded earth etc.

The remaining sections of the paper deal, though briefly, with new technology inputs in mud architecture; the need for skill up gradation, the need for institutional support and encouragement from the political - administrative leadership, the need for more research work and other intervention from modern scientists and technologists etc. The concluding section of the paper introduces the work of HUDCO, which is the principle techno-financing institution in low cost housing in India.

While the above paper sets the background and makes a strong case for the need for a "mud architecture" for housing, it also reflects a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards the role of traditional knowledge in mud architecture. It is not clear how mud architecture would meet the housing needs of Indian or any people without also satisfying some more fundamental needs of the people such as their psychological and cultural needs. What perhaps leads to this confusion is the perceived need to sound "modern*1 and "rational" and not "sentimental" or "romantic". There is also an underlying concern that "mud architecture" must seem compatible with a "modern" life style so that the economically better-off may also consider it as relevant to their housing needs.

The second paper under policy, "Mud Architecture: An environmental need" is by Prof. K.Ravi. This paper begins with a brief historical introduction, and highlights the fact that even today, there are many traditional "Nalu-Kattu" houses in Kerala, which are more than two - hundred years old. This should dispel the common notion that mud as building material is not durable. The following sections deal with the environmental appropriateness of mud architecture and the environmental implications of using modern building materials, in particular, bricks, in place of mud.

Modern building materials are not only energy - wasteful but also heavily air-and water-polluting. Substitution of mud for bricks and cement can bring down the level of air pollution significantly. Tree felling and deforestation for fire-wood to be used in brick kilns can also be avoided by the use of mud instead of bricks. Cement industry consumes enormous quantities of water and this water resource can be saved by avoiding the use of cement. There are other benefits of using mud such as the suitability of mud housing with regard to the Indian climate.
The last section of this paper argues for the development of an "integrated institutional and technological approach" towards improving the image of mud, overcoming some of its deficiencies and making mud architecture acceptable to the public as well as to governmental policy.

Unfortunately, no empirical data has been presented regarding energy and ecological impact of the use of bricks and cement. Perhaps a distinction could have been made between bricks and cement, since cement is far more polluting and energy - consuming.

Tree felling for brick-manufacture appears particularly Hamagmg only in the context of a general deforestation due to modernization and industrialization and a lack of planning for aforestation for kun-use. It is also necessary to work out the implications of a complete switch to mud for all housing such as the availability of mud, etc.

The third paper in this section by Sanjay Frakash and Aromar Revi describes some of the potentials, prospects and projections for building design and construction in two Western Himalayan river valleys,' the regions of Ladakh around the upper Indus river, and of Spiti around the Spiti river rain these areas of high altitude and low resource levels, energy - conscious earth building has traditionally been a part of everyday existence. This paper describes some aspects of the existing situation and explores future possibilities for these areas.

The geography, fixate, and lifestyles of the people of the, two areas are presented briefly. Following this, traditional building construction practices are described and their appropriateness to the natural resource-base, climate and lifestyle of the people is highlighted. For while adobe is, the dominant-form of walling in I.adakh, in Spiti the dominant form of walling uses lightly-rammed earth. Traditionally there have also been some simple empirical tests to determine the soil-bearing capacity of the building site. The authors suggest that the adoption of such traditional techniques is essential for current building activity. Different features of traditional building construction are described in some detail - walls, plasters, roofs, floors, doors, windows etc. This is followed by case studies of several buildings in the two areas. Traditional design and architectural features are described briefly.

The last section of the paper deals with the changing situation which is a consequence of increasing population, energy and resource shortages. This implies that construction would have to be faster, more energy effect and buildings would have to have higher spatial, thermal and structural efficiencies. Some technological solutions are offered, like for instance the use of glass and other modern materials for improved heat insulation.

The fourth paper in this section, "Salient sodo-cultural features of mud architecture in India" by Prof, Degrades Mukhopadhyaya, is a brief statement on the politics of mass housing in India and the options that are available. An example of building construction based on local materials and skills is also given.

The fifth paper in this section, "Some policy Issues in Housing", is by Vinous Kaley. This paper describes the evolution of the so-called Rural Housing crisis in India; the attitude of the Indian State and the efforts by the State to resolve this crisis; the crisis in the supply of building material, particularly wood; the forest policy of the Indian State and how this affects rural housing - with an example from Wareham district. Some recommendations are made for future pock particularly with regard to making available forest raw materials such as bamboo to die rural people.

The final paper in the policy section deals with different uses of mud and the versatility of mud as building material.


The paper, "Mud walls: Tradition and Innovation", by Pro! K.S.Jagadish, deals with a number of ways mud walls have been used traditionally in South Kamataka region such as, cob-wall, mud-concrete, adobe wall, bamboo reinforced mud wall eta, and a number of innovations that have been tried using mud, such as, rammed earth, pressed-soil block, stabilized adobe, and makes a comparison of all these technologies. Some innovations in protection of mud walls against rain are discussed. It is argued that capital and energy intensive and centralized mass production of bricks eta, are unsuitable from the point of view of providing mass housing to the poor.

The paper, Tired Houses", by Ray Meeker, deals with a relatively new idea for stabilizing earth structures - namely firing of earth houses. The process, stated simply is as follows:

- Build a room/kiln in unbaked mud brick. The roof can be either vaulted or domed.
- Fill the room/kiln with a product: i.e. bricks, files, drain pipes, etc. and fire to between 900°C and 1000°C.
- Use a portion of the product for finishing the house - tile, roof and floor, build a small compound wall with the bricks, etc
- Sell the remainder of the product to recover as much of the building cost as possible.

In theory, with the "right" product, the building could cost nothing. The paper argues that this concept is "potentially revolutionary in its economic implications".

The paper "Mud technology for housing of common people" by A.Balakrishnan, deals with different methods of using mud for walls and improvements innovations.

Institutional Support:

The first paper corning under this group is a report on the activities of the Centre for research and application of earth construction technology (CRA Terre) a French organization. There is a fairly detailed section on the research activities of this organization. The origin of the organization is traced back to the "energy crisis" in Europe in 1983. This prompted experiments with simple and cheap building materials and energy efficient techniques suitable for low-cost housing. Research efforts were encouraged by the living tradition, in some areas of France, of loam earth construction. This research seeks to provide explanations based on modern science for some traditional practices, mainly in Africa.

Next is the report on the work of the organization Nirmithi Kendra (Building centre) in the Quilon district of Kerala. This organization was started in 1986 with the objective of

(i). A tftmimil agency to generate and propagate motive (modern) ideas in housing
(ii). A clearing house of information and data bank on housing which would bring the fruits of research from Tab to Land".
(hi). A production centres; to prefabricate standardized housing materials.
(iv). A training house ;to impart skills to local workmen in innovative (modern) housing techniques and! create a cadre of trained workers in all the blocks of the district
(v). A nodal agency to serve as a catalyst in the field of housing, ensuring coordination1 in implementation of housing programmers.

The Kendra is seen as an effective link between the elite urban researcher and the rural house builders.' During a span of about 9 months in 86-87, the Kendra had trained over 200 young trainees from as over, Kerala, in modern low-cost housing techniques such as use of Ferro-cement, rafters, joists, tanks, rubble filter blocks (stone block masonry), soil-stabilized pressed blocks, funicular shells etc The trainees are encouraged to form themselves into the Nirmithi Rural Housing Corps, with their area of operation confined to the respective community development blocks with the Block Development Officer as Chairperson. These trainees in turn disseminate this technology to recipients for undertaking construction utilizing various housing alternatives.

In order to make housing available to rural people at affordable prices, Nirmithi Kendra has launched a
program me for mass production of housing materials. At various locations in the Quilon district the Kendra mass produces several type of new low-cost housing materials. The Kendra has found some new solutions such as "Asch treatment" of rubber wood, which is generally freely available in Kerala, to compensate for the shortage of traditional timber, particularly coconut wood. It is expected that this method will be able to supply timber for door and window frames for less than l/3rd the cost of the conventional wood.

One of the recent achievements of the Kendra has been the construction of more than 300 Ferro-cement water tanks in one month engaging its own trained masons, at about l/3rd of the cost at which private rnanufacturer construct these tanks.

Initially die mtroducbon of new technology into villages encountered resistance from villagers and local masons, who questioned the effectiveness of the new' techniques which sought to ‘replace the traditional techniques. However, the Kendra claims to have become successful in getting the participation of villagers in their housing programmers.

While efforts such as Nirmithi Kendra fill a vital gap in the field of mass low-cost housing, 'there is stir a need for such organizations to do research into the traditional knowledge in the area of housing and base innovations, where necessary, on such knowledge, so that such mnovatioos become truer; appropriate.

The final paper in this section is on the role of the cooperative sector and voluntary organizations in propagating mud architecture. Several mud-related technologies for rural use are briefly described.


The final group of papers, on Documentation, includes two case studies presented by two French organizations on their work in mud architecture. The final paper in this section contains some information from a world-wide survey of earth construction activities presented by two technologists from France.

At the end of the conference, each of the four groups put forward several recommendations. The following is a summary of the recommendations of the different groups.

(i) Policy: Recommendations of this group cover several areas. The following recommendations have been aimed at the Government:

Education: Simple, informative books must be prepared to educate children, students and others on all aspects of mud architecture and the suitability of mud as a building material in today's context.

Land: Since non-availability of land is a major bottleneck in housing, land distribution to the poor, particularly in urban areas must precede housing programmers.

Standards: Mud houses must be granted permission by authorities without unnecessary restrictions.

Government Buildings: The Government must promote mud architecture by using it wherever feasible.

Local Materials: Since tike non-availability and increasing costs of materials such, as wood, bamboo etc, are serious constraints on the use of mud architecture, paper manufacturers must be made to supply 20% of their stock of bamboo to home - owners at reasonable prices.

There are several other general recommendations, concerning building standards; information about mud architecture; data base on mud; people's participation in mud construction; women's role in mud architecture; incentives to promote mud use, etc.

(ii) Technology: The recommendations made by tins group concern the following issues: research activity in the soups for their suitability in mud architecture; communication among research groups; use of mud as an alternative to brick/concrete; research on the use of mud in foundations, roofs and floors in addition to walls; delivery systems for new technologies; research on traditional technologies; an Indian standard code pertaining to mud construction etc.

(iii) Institutional Support: The recommendations of this group deal with the relevance of building standards for mud architecture; inclusion of mud architecture in the curricula of architectural schools; national and state-level coordinating agencies for propagation and dissemination of mud architecture; data banks on mud architecture; decentralization of building centers, etc.

(iv) Documentation: This group concerned itself with communication and documentation, through various media, of information on mud architecture.

As the group on technology recommended, there is a need today for a great deal of research on traditional science and technology of mud architecture. For instance in the Tamil tradition, the Viswakarma Community, who are the traditional technologists, are said .to be the repositories of a vast body of knowledge on mud architecture. It is necessary for the modern mud architects, to interact closely with the traditional architects and overcome some of the so-called deficiencies of mud as a building material, such as lack 'of durability, low tensile strength etc. That mud structures and buildings have stood for hundreds of years has been mentioned by some of the participants of the ICMA. It is time that the Indian tradition of mud architecture is resurrected to take its rightful place in the solution of the mass-housing problem in our country.

It is also a fact that there has been a degeneration of traditional skills in general, as a result of long years of neglect and lack of patronage. However there are still several master builders of the Vishvakarma tradition in our country, who can be the nucleus of a regeneration of Indian architecture. It is essential that the India State provide the necessary resources for a major effort towards such regeneration.

It is also essential that the modern mud architects work out comprehensive plans using mud architecture as the technology for mass-housing schemes. Such plans must be fully substantiated by cost-benefit and techno-economic analyses. This will go a long way in persuading both the public who are the beneficiaries and the planners about the need to bring mud architecture back to the mainstream of modern architecture and building technology. Mud architecture is important today not only from the technological and economic but also from social considerations. Only the use of mud as building material will bring forth the initiative and participation of our people and it is only then that our housing problem will find an appropriate solution.

Author:A. V. Balasubramanian


A two day seminar was organized in Madras on June 24th and 25th 1988 on the theme -"Metallurgy as practiced in Ancient Times". The seminar was organized jointly by the Madras Metallurgical Society, Madras Museum and the Department of Archeology of the Government of Tamil Nadu. The seminar was inaugurated by the industrialist Shri R.Rathnam who "wondered whether there is something in our ancient practices - the famous iron pillar at Delhi for instance - that we are missing to avail a simpler solution to the present day corrosion problem".

There was a broad range of topics covered by the speakers. Some papers were a routine survey of data available regarding ancient metallurgy from published technical literature or even literary evidence. A large number of papers dealt with corrosion, conservation and restoration of metal antiques - these hardly fall within the scope of the seminar. It would have been far more interesting if some attention had been paid to traditional methods of conservation - the way in which metal objects (like bronze icons in our temples) are preserved without damage for hundreds of years and what we can learn from them. A suggestion along these lines was indeed made by Dr.Nagasamy in his valedictory address.

The more interesting presentations were from those scholars working on archeometallurgy. Prof. K-T.M.Hegde (M.S. University of Baroda) reported the work of his group regarding Zinc Metallurgy in the Zawan area of Rajasthan. Excavations carried out in the site over the last few years have revealed that Zinc was being produced here by the distillation process in a metallic form. Till recently modern scholarship believed that metallic Zinc was first produced when William Champion introduced the "distillation per descended" process in 1746 in Bristol. The Zawan excavations have revealed that the mining and production of Zinc has been in progress in the area at least since the 1st century B.C. Hence from the very ancient times Brass was being produced in India by mixing metallic Zinc with Copper (this gives greater control over composition) while it was being produced elsewhere in the world by the cementation process (i.e. reduction of Zinc ore in the presence of Copper - this gives inferior quality Brass) till the late 18th century.

Thelma Lowe (University of California, Berkley, U.S.A) presented results of her investigation on the nature of the crucible used in producing ingots of the famous 'Woods Steel*. She has been investigating the fired crucible segments and ingots from heaps of the debris of the industry in Konasamudram Milage of the Nizamabad District of Andhra Pradesh. She described how the crucible made of rice husk and clay was an excellent material for the production of Woods. This technique of production seems to have given the ancient steel makers independent control over grain size and carbon content - which even today remain the two critical factors in determining the steel quality.

An interesting feature of the seminar was the presence and participation of Shri Devasenapathi (of Swamimalai in Tamil Nadu) who is a renowned sculptor of metal Icons. The Sthapati demonstrated the traditional method of making icons by the Madhu Ucchistha Vidhana (equivalent to the Ore Perdue - the so called 'Lost - wax* process) to the audience. In addition there was an imaginative session in which a dialogue took place between the1 Sthapati and a modern metallurgist - Shri Ranganathan (of Hyderabad) who specialises in casting metal statues. In this session the two of them outlined then-respective methods of casting 'images. The exchange was moderated by Dr.Gopal of the Madras Metallurgical Society who made the session lively and absorbing by his thought provoking and imaginative questions.

Dr.Nagasamy (Director of Archeology, Tamil Nadu) presented to the audience the case of the "The London Maharaja". This icon which was stolen from a temple in Thanjavur district was traced in London a few years ago. Subsequently the Tamil Nadu Government staked a claim to it and a judgment was given in its favors. A startling sidelight to this lecture which was a sort of an anticlimax came later. A member of the audience wanted to know if there was any truth in the rumors that a large number of our temples are even now being deprived of their icons which are finding their way abroad and that what we have left are only dummies. Far from any clarification or reassurance on this issue, the chairman of the session disallowed the question because of its "sensitive" nature -prompted by high officials of the Department of Archeology! A distinguished archeologist who was present at the seminar later on shared his misgivings on this matter with this author. He said that it has been noted for the past several years that even small museums abroad ("Second and third rate museums") seem to be continuously acquiring several high quality bronzes and icons of’ Indian origin. This is indeed a matter that needs to be looked into .very urgently and corrective measures taken.

Scattered throughout the seminar - from the inaugural address of Dr.V.SArunachalam (Scientific Advisor to the Ministry of Defence) to several presentations that came later -were statements emphasizing the need for a study of the traditional techniques of metal work and metallurgy, since they are of interest not only as history or art but also from the point of view of what we can learn from them today. Some specific suggestions were also made from the audience, such as the institution of awards and honours to distinguished traditional practitioners; creation of avenues by which the faculty and students with background in modern metallurgy can study with traditional scholars and artisans; survey, compilation and publication of the source works on Indian metallurgy (such as texts on Rasa Sastra etc) - to cite only a few of them. However, the meeting concluded without any direction or action plan in this area. In this respect it was perhaps similar to several earlier meetings. For instance, twenty five year ago in 1963, when the National Metallurgical Laboratory convened a meeting on The Delhi Iron Pillar", many similar sentiments were expressed. And we seem to have hardly progressed in our understanding of our traditional practices of metallurgy and have done nothing to assess their current day implications or potential. Still, there has perhaps been a general change in our situation, which renders this line of thinking more acceptable today. It may be hoped that we can now work towards a more concrete plan of action in this area.

Author:A. V. Balasubramanian

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