SidharthYakshi Learning Centre, Medak, Himachal Pradesh, Ar. Siddharth Menon
Some of the worlds greatest civilizations were carved in mud. Mud, straw, lime are one of the primitive mortars that has hold the magnificent Pyramids of Egypt, cities of Indus Valley civilization and many ancient buildings till date. In many part of the world it is still an important building material in construction and the knowledge is not unknown. Ar. Siddharth Menon displays this knowledge in designing Yakshi Learning Centre in a small village Badampet, Telangana.
Yakshi is a Non- Government Organization based in Hyderabad. Their work focuses primarily on the issues of health, education, livelihood, food crops and agriculture of the indigenous people of coastal Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Up till 2013, these participatory workshops, community level meetings and programs were held in rented spaces thereby adding to costs. The need arose for a community space in the village which could be used as a base to consolidate the activities of the organization. Since the built space is set in the context of rural Telangana, it made most sense to adopt an indigenous building vocabulary for the Rural Community Centre.
The Centre is a G+1 mud building spread over a ground area of 5160 sq ft. Oriented in the cardinal N-S directions, the central east facing courtyard acts as the heart of the built space. The ground floor consists of a pillared dining hall, kitchen, seed bank and common toilets which include dry compost toilets around this central courtyard. The upper floor has more private spaces of the resource person’s rooms and office. The toilets placed to the south of the building face 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 this space 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 into 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 stone with mud mortar. Above the ground the stones are dressed on site and a stabilized mud mortar is used. All stones are procured from a nearby quarry. An RCC plinth band, cast at the plinth level, runs across all the walls and doubles up as a DPC. Neem wood door frames are placed and external walls are raised in 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.
An intricate system of Neem wood truss, rafter and beam is used for the roof. 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 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 provides the requisite thermal insulation from the summer heat. The walls are plastered with 3 coats of mud plaster, the final coat of which is a 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.

About the Architect
Ar. Siddharth Menon graduated as an architect from I.E.S’s College of Architecture, Mumbai University in 2011. After interning at the Auroville Earth Institute, he was mentored by Didi Contractor for two and half years in Himachal Pradesh. Today he practices as an interdependent traveling architect shuttling between his sites in rural Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra. His work addresses the use of locally available materials like mud, bamboo and stone, labour intensive building techniques and community based craftsmanship in a swiftly globalizing and homogenizing rural India. When not on his build sites, he writes, lectures at talks and conferences and is a visiting faculty of M.Arch.

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