India annually consumes more than 300 million tonnes of cement and out of this about 70% is used in construction of houses. It is also said that nearly 70% of the houses which we need will be constructed in next 10 years. In other words, there will be steep increase in the consumption of cement in the coming years.
To produce one tone of cement 120 kwh of electricity is needed. Usually 2:1 ratio of cement and water is used while making concrete and out of this part of the water is wasted which is unavoidable. And more water is needed for curing of concrete and in hot summer climate part of the water used for curing gets evaporated. Apart from cement and water, concrete also requires sand and aggregates. Electricity, water, sand and aggregates – all are in short supply in our country and they need to be preserved and should be wasted. Therefore, current building methods and materials are not sustainable and there is an urgent need to find alternatives.
Earthen architecture is one of the most original and powerful expressions of our ability to create a built environment with readily available resources. There are a great variety of structures, ranging from mosques, palaces and granaries, to historic city centres, cultural landscapes and archaeological sites which are examples of earthen architecture and in many cases simple mud architecture. The availability and economic quality of the material mean it bears great potential to contribute to poverty alleviation and sustainable development.
Since soil is a widely available material, it has been used in construction since prehistoric times. It may be combined with other materials, compressed and/or baked to add strength. Soil is still an economical material for many applications, and may have low environmental impact both during and after construction.
Promoting mud architecture/houses means killing several birds with single stone. First of all, mud is universally available material and there is no scarcity of soil. Secondly, unlike in case of cement and steel its exploitation doesn’t harm the nature nor will it impact the climate. Thirdly, it’s the cheapest building material especially in the rural areas and as such the most suited for affordable housing projects. Further, it costs much less to maintain mud buildings than in the case of concrete buildings. Fourthly, it consumes less water than the concrete and therefore most suited to a country like India which is facing acute shortage of water. Mud construction requires 50% less water than in the case of concrete construction. Further, there is no need for curing which means more saving in water consumption and also saving in time. Fifthly, India has abundant supply of labour and mud construction can fruitfully employ such labour, thus providing jobs to unemployed. Because of the decentralized nature of construction, there is less scope for mechanization and automation in mud construction. And lastly, mud is extremely malleable and offers better insulation than steel-and-concrete structures.
We should spend more resources and time as scientific research on the subject will further the endeavor to ameliorate know-how in the field. Expected results include a better understanding of the problems facing earthen architecture, the development of policies favoring its conservation, the definition of practical guidelines and the organization of training and awareness activities, particularly in local communities through workshops, exhibitions, conferences and technical publications to raise the recognition of earthen architecture, as well as the creation of an active global network for the exchange of information and experience.
A crucial element in mud housing is the roof. Mud-building can become a more attractive technology only if appropriate roofing material is developed, but very little has been done in this regard.
A few months ago the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs had instituted a challenge for States/ UTs to select six sites across the country for constructing the Lighthouse projects under Global Housing Technology Challenge-India (GHTC- India). However, the government has completely neglected mud houses in its Lighthouse projects which is strange and unfortunate.
Though there are some problems related to mud architecture like vulnerability to water today’s technology is so advanced that all these weaknesses can be overcome through proper R&D. It’s a simple technology which was practiced 1000 of years ago but has relevance even today. Unless we do something to promote it, the technology may die a natural death in our mad rush urbanize.