The following article was featured on 27th July 2015 in www.sawdust.online on ecological interiors and the use of mud for the same.
When designing and building in rural areas, mud should be the de facto material of choice. Excavated right from the foundation for the building or from an adjoining farm, it has a very low carbon footprint. Since millennia, our forefathers have built their dwellings with this fascinating material and a lot of the world still continues to do so today! In this context, it is important to understand the implications of using it for a modern contemporary inhabitant.
Mud walls once built using un-stabilized mud (without adding any chemical stabilizers like cement) need to be plastered with a mixture of sieved mud, wheat husk or tudi, sand, cow dung or gobur and water to protect it from rain, damage, etc. This is an indigenous skill and almost every person in a village knows it. Three coats of this plaster are applied on top of each other after the drying of the former and once ready, through the following of a process you get an end product that is aesthetically unmatched by any commercial product.
There is a certain softness to it, which is derived from the skilled hands of a craftswoman, which gracefully accepts natural light falling on it. The surface absorbs just the right amount of light to ensure the interiors are warm and cozy. Color of walls will vary from place to place with the changing of soil and its properties and there lies its intrinsic beauty- different hues of earth color that are distinctively unique. Since specifications of batches of plaster cannot be controlled, variations will appear on different portions of the same wall! Additionally natural dyes and pigments can be added to the final coat to give it gentle shades, without using garish, gaudy and extremely toxic market paints and plasters.
The evaporation of water from plastered walls lead to slight superficial cracks and irregularities. Unfortunately, the aesthetic of the modern industrial finish has been bombarded on us to such an extent that straight smooth lines have become a convention and this, an aberration. Imperfections are within us all and it is just that we accept the beauty of it in our built spaces.
Conventional electric conduits can be easily chipped into a mud wall, only to be plastered over later and the durability of plaster increased by adding some modern chemical adhesives to the final plaster coat. This increases its binding property thereby necessitating the redoing of interior plaster only once every 2-3 years depending on its wear and tear. Since this is a locally available skill in rural India, it would cost much less than an expensive conventional paint job done every 5 years. Eventually the feeling of residing in a space that is made of a local, natural, safe and environment friendly material trumps everything else.