The following article was published in the June-July 2015 Edition of Architecture Update India elaborating on the design and construction of the Yakshi Learning Centre in District Medak, Telangana, India. The complete article can be viewed at http://architectureupdate.in/projects/regional-dialect/
Yakshi is a Non- Government Organization based in Hyderabad. Their work focuses primarily on the issues of health, education and livelihood of the indigenous tribals from the coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh. Through sister organizations and local level sanghams or community movements they are also involved with the issues of food for sovereignty, food crops and agriculture in the districts of Medak and Adilabad in the newly formed state of Telangana. With the help of their dedicated grass root activists they seek to educate, empower and strengthen local community based efforts in the above mentioned fields through research, advocacy, participatory workshops and practice.
Up till 2013, these participatory workshops, community level meetings and programs were held in rented spaces in Tier 3 cities thereby adding to overall costs without giving back to the communities. This gave rise to the need for a community space in the village which could be used as a base where all the activities of the organization could be consolidated. This primary need was the genesis of the program brief which required a community kitchen and a dining hall to seat and feed 40 persons at a time, a 40 person meeting room for workshops and meetings, a community seed bank managed by women from the village, 2 resource person rooms to host activists and volunteers from outside, a women’s dorm for 20 people, common toilets for both men and women, a caretaker’s room and an open air amphitheatre to be used on hot summer evening for folk artists and craftsmen for theatre, music and dance. Tight budget constraints required the meeting room to double up as a men’s dorm at a night during large workshops.
Since the built space is set in the context of rural Telangana, it made most sense to adopt a indigenous building vocabulary for the building. After spending a couple of months studying the traditional housing technology and patterns, available materials and skill of craftsmen, wind flow directions, solar orientations and angles, rainfall data and summer and winter temperature, a design solution was proposed. This solution propagated the use of indigenous building knowledge in terms of building material and technology to build the Yakshi Learning Centre after carefully understanding its benefits and limitations.
The Centre is a G+1 mud building spread over a ground area of 5160 sft. Oriented in the cardinal N-S directions, the central east facing courtyard acts as the heart of the built space. To its north is the semi open dining room with two carved wooden pillars at its center. The kitchen is located in the north east corner of the building and gets the first rays of the sun. The central courtyard acts as a spill out for the dining room. A stone pillared verandah circulates around the central courtyard and connects the dining room to the seed bank, common toilets, meeting room and stairs. 3 toilets and 2 baths have been provided for men and women each including dry compost pit toilet. This aims to provide a solution to the acute water shortage in this region. The upper floor contains more private spaces of the resource person’s rooms and an office. The toilets are placed to the south of the building as this faces the brunt of the sun for most parts of the year. The south and west wings of the building are G+1 rising to a height of 20’ ensuring the mid day sun casts a cool shadow onto the east facing courtyard. Thereby the courtyard becomes a usable space post 3 pm due to mutual shading. Since earth is required to build the walls of the centre, the meeting room and the amphitheatre are sunk in the ground to a depth 3’. This also ensures the space remains cool in the summer owing the thermal mass of the earth surrounding it.
The load bearing walls of the building have a strip foundation of roughly cut granite stones with mud mortar. The foundation has a depth of 3’ below which the hard strata begins. Once the buildings emerge above the ground, granite blocks dressed on site by skilled masons are used. All the granite is available from a nearby stone quarry. These are put together using a stabilized cement mud mortar of 1 part cement, 6 part sand and 6 part mud. An RCC plinth band is cast at the plinth level that runs across all the walls and doubles up as a DPC. Neem wood the door frames and placed and external walls are raised in dressed granite to the window cill level. This is done to prevent the erosion of mud on exterior walls due to splash back of the rain. Interior walls need only a single course of stone after which the mud walls can begin.
The technique of mud that is used indigenously in this region is that of cob-balls of slightly wet stiff mud slapped on top of each other to form the wall. The earth that is excavated from the foundation and the sunken amphitheatre are mixed well with water and lime slurry. The lime acts like a local stabilizer binding the clay particles together. They also deter termites. These are then made into small balls of diameter of 6’-9” that are easy to hold and throw. Each wall section is 1.5’ high. This left to dry for a few days before the next sections begins to prevent the wall from collapsing under its own wet weight. At the 7’ lintel level another RCC Lintel band is cast running continuously across all the walls. This is joined to the lower plinth band at the corners and the junctions with a single reinforcement rod. This flexible frame counters the lateral movements of an earthquake keeping the damage to a minimum. The lintel band also helps in redistributing the load on the mud walls and provides for larger window openings to negate the drawbacks of traditional building materials. As mud has a poor compressive strength, walls need to be at least 18” thick. This adds to the its thermal mass thereby acting like a heat battery, slowly absorbing and storing the heat during the day and radiating it back in the night. Therefore there is difference of 8-10 degree Celsius between peak summer and winter interior and exterior temperatures.
A Neem wood truss, beam and rafter pitched roof is adopted. Neem wood is extensively found in this region and the local carpenters have a history of intricate design and carvings. The trusses are made to fit into each other without the use of nails, staying in place due to the weight of the tiles above. Neem wood battens are used to provide an impervious layer above the rafters. Hollow clay tiles are used for the roofing. These are fixed on a 2”-3” thick layer of mud which also provides the requisite thermal insulation from the summer heat. The walls are plasters with 3 coats of mud plaster. The final coat is mix of cow dung, water, and wheat husk. As a modern addition, adhesives like Fevicol DDL, work well to hold this final layer together for a longer period of time and decreases the need for constant maintenance.