Thannal Hand Sculpted Homes is a “Natural Building Awareness Group”, located in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. Started in 2011 by Architect Biju Bhasker and his wife Sindhu Bhasker, Thannal aims to document, develop, incorporate, and disseminate indigenous and traditional Indian knowledge systems of the shelter and its construction. It derives its value systems from the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi as a “silent, self-practice” by minimizing the adverse impact on nature, a natural derivative being building sustainably, which is at the crux of the practice.
Here are ten of their projects illustrating these values:
1. ERIKAI COB HOME, ANANDAVANAM, TAMIL NADU
This rustic cob hut was built entirely by a group of volunteers in Anandavanam, Tamil Nadu. With an area of 350 sq ft, simple materials having low embodied energy such as stone, lime, terracotta, mud, bamboo, and coconut leaves were used in its construction. The furniture is playfully built into the architecture itself in the form of a low-height platform, acting as a sleeping/sitting area, and niches built into the walls as storage. This charming cottage only costs about Rs. 85,000 in its entirety.
2. WATTLE & DAUB COTTAGE, BANGALORE, KARNATAKA
A curvilinear, low-height cob wall is layered onto a more rigid, rectangular stone foundation. From these emerge the bamboo framework, filled-in with lattices formed by interwoven split-bamboo fiber and such natural material (wattle). These are then covered with an earthen coat (daub) to make the walls more sturdy. The flexibility of these materials allows for the creation of animate, organic wall openings within the wattle itself acting as ventilators in places. Mangalore tiles serve as the roofing. Athangudi tiles, along with other unused stones on the site are used to create entrancing floor patterns.
3. EARTHBAG HOME, TIRUVANNAMALAI, TAMIL NADU
Completed in 45 days and covering an area of approximately 550 sq ft, this home was made using 1000 bags full of earth, the soil for which was dug up from the site to create a natural pond. Built-in less than Rs. 3-lakhs, the earthbags cost less than what baked bricks would cost to make the walls similarly 1.5 ft thick. Many naturally occurring substances such as pear juice, aloe vera, tamarind, etc. were used in making admixtures.
4. NATIVE SEED BANK, KARUR, TAMIL NADU
An initiative of an ex IT-professional turned farmer, this building allows for local farmers to be able to store seeds for the next season. A cob structure built over a stone foundation, and a wooden roof covered with Mangalore tiles, it is a quintessential Thannal building. It incorporates a local plant called ‘Virali’ for termite-resistance in the cob walls. Consisting of two-rooms with storage built into the walls, it also has a loft area as an additional repository. The building runs entirely on solar power.
5. A FARMER’S HOME, ATTAPPADI, KERALA
This is a minimal-budget home, covering an area of around 800 sq ft, built for a displaced farmer and his family consisting of his wife and kids. It is a two-storeyed home built by the owner with the help of volunteers at Thannal, and materials such as mud, bamboo, and stone are all sourced from the site itself. The walls are a combination of both cob, and wattle and daub structures. Split-bamboo technique is employed in the attic and the balcony, thereby keeping them light-weight.
6. FINE ART LEAF STUDIO, TIRUVANNAMALAI, TAMIL NADU
One of the earlier structures by Thannal is an artist’s studio made up of locally available materials like bamboo for the frame, coconut leaf weavings for walls, and palm leaves for the roof covering. Spread over an area of 342 sq ft, it was built for a low cost of Rs. 75000. With a stone foundation as the base, it is primarily a wattle structure, the walls covered with leaf weavings. Around 1080 palm leaves were used for the roof covering, which can last for over five years.
7. WHO AM I MUD HUT, TIRUVANNAMALAI, TAMIL NADU
It is a simple wattle and daub mud hut built using materials like bamboo which is used for the structural frame and the loft, coconut leaves, and red mud. At the lower level, there is a kitchen and a veranda. The loft above acts as the resting/sleeping area. Broken ceramics and carvings have been used to decorate and personalize the earth walls. In true Thannal style, niches are found incorporated into the walls for storage.
8. COW SHELTER, POLUR, TAMIL NADU
Surrounded by farmlands, this building is an initiative by a group of youngsters to create awareness among the local villages to preserve native cow breeds. Covering an area of 2800 sq ft, this organic structure is designed such that it not only acts as a cow shelter but also harvests rainwater and promotes vermiculture. With a bamboo frame, the other materials used are – palm leaves, coconut leaves, which go in the roof, along with coir (fiber extracted from coconut husk), used as ties.
9. SINGING DERVISH STUDIO, TIRUVANNAMALAI, TAMIL NADU
Located within the Thannal campus, this is a 750 sq ft cob structure. Constructed as a “prototype” for a sustainable, low impact home for farmers, it incorporates all the needs of a family. In a world full of monotonous, cement, and steel structure, it aims to portray “small, dancing spaces.” The materials used are bamboo, mud, and terracotta. Playful niches in the wall combined with mud carvings give it a lively feel. The daylight entering from openings of several shapes creates a dramatic effect inside.
10. GRANDMA’S COB KITCHEN, TIRUVANNAMALAI, TAMIL NADU
Built for a child care center, Grandma’s Cob Kitchen covers an area of 600 sq ft. It makes use of natural materials like bamboo, mud, and stone, and other repurposed materials like glass from cars, doors, and windows. A cob bench is created in the veranda as an extension of the main building. Several differently shaped niches, in addition to the playful mud engravings, add to the life of the building.