Building with Mud in Tropical Regions

0
1190
Modern contemporary home in India built out of mud
A contemporary mud house built by architect G. Shankar in Thiruvananthapuram, India. Image: Viraj Kumar

Getting anxious about how your new home might affect the environment? With all the buzz and tension about making sustainable and environmentally friendly choices, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and not know what to do. Lucky for you if you live in a tropical region. Tropical regions are full of sustainable natural building materials, and science has come a long way in developing these to make them easier to incorporate into our conventional contemporary construction practices.

Even with all the advancements in technologies and the array of new synthetic and mass-produced materials in the market, the charm and impact of mud buildings still stand. Around the world, people are researching and trying to incorporate the goodness of sustainable mud walls into their spaces, and the tropics have the best kind of mud; just the right kind of loamy soil.

Advertisement

Mud is a wonderful and the most versatile of natural building materials. It is easily tamed, carved and shaped to your aesthetic and functional standards and is low maintenance, damp-proof and earthquake resistant. The best part: it can be found right under your future home. It is a common practice in tropical vernacular traditions to use the mud from the excavation to build houses, thus, saving the cost of both material and transportation.

Low cost suburban mud house in India
A low-cost suburban house built from mud in Bengaluru, India. Image: The Better Indian

Benefits of mud construction

Aesthetics

Aesthetics are a vital part of our day-to-day routine to maintain good mental health. It makes us smile, stay calm and helps us settle down into the space. Mud excels in this department. It does not only bring earthy textures but adds a comforting warmth to the space. It can be used both as an aesthetic finish and a monolithic building material.

“The room is dressed in the earth, little shades of gravel peeping through its walls. A colored ray of light is sneaking through the glass bricks in the wall to render the embedded stone and shell composition. As one sits in the room, they experience a unique drama that only the majestic earth can offer.”

Mud has the power to enlighten your interiors with a chic texture. Its mass and stability open-up an array of opportunities of embellishing the walls with beautiful shells, colored glass and stones and customizing it to match your personality. It can also be tinted and colored with oxide tints and add a magical earthy drama to the spaces. It pairs wonderfully with elegant and contemporary warm light fixtures and all kinds of furniture.

Decorative interior of a mud house showing shelves and ornaments
Mud houses lend themselves to many forms of interior decoration from the whimsical to contemporary. Image: © M. Elyoussoufi

Moreover, if you already have a built your home, you can still add the goodness and textures of mud and the embellishments that come with it, with just a simple and maintenance-free mud plastering technique.

The real joy of using mud can be experienced as one designs and plays with the shapes of openings, making it organic, or a subtle rectangle, outlined with timber or embedded coloured stones or glass.”  

In façades, mud is an extremely flexible material in terms of forms. Whether you are a fan of organic flow or sharp corners, it can achieve both with ease. The exterior aesthetics of mud lies mostly in its texture, embeds and ability to shape the opening differently, which is a rather complicated and expensive process in other materials.

Temperature control

Another major benefit of mud as a building material is its thermal mass. Most tropical regions have moderate temperature ranges which means that houses with well-designed airflow patterns and roof overhangs to protect the walls from radiant sun should not need greenhouse emitting air conditioning solutions. The thermal mass of earth walls can help you achieve a comfortable temperature within your home without any extreme energy bills.

The thermal mass, porosity and damp-proof quality of mud causes inside temperatures to stay much cooler and build up more slowly when compared to houses built of brick or concrete. This has been demonstrated through research undertaken in Bangladesh where mud has been used as a traditional building material for centuries.

Mud house in India with laterite gravel walls
This mud house in India has an attractive exterior finish due to the use of laterite gravel in the mixture used for the walls. Image: Viraj Kumar

In tropical areas other than the humid lowland regions, such as desert or highland regions where temperatures can become cold at night, mud walls can release heat absorbed during the day back into the house at night to keep the house at a more constant temperature. It will not only reduce your energy bills but make your home a comfortable place to come back to.

Cheap and Sustainable

As should be evident by now, mud is the most sustainable material ever. The material and construction process leaves zero carbon footprint. If you wish to extend or renovate, you can just demolish and reuse the same material for the new construction, or just let it blend into your site, without having to get rid of it.

Even if you are not keen to make sustainable choices, you will be surprised at the financial benefits it offers. You can save on material costs, transportation costs, renovation, painting and plastering costs. You’ll also save on energy bills throughout life and enjoy a lifelong natural luxury of a calm, stylish and warm home.

Types and composition of mud

Of course, there are some technicalities to mud construction. But like any other building material, once you know it, it’s difficult to mess it up. The most important thing to consider is the type of mud and the preferred stabilizing agents.

Without the proper composition of mud, your building could crack, crumble, or fail to bear the desired load, so hiring a professional who knows these proportions and technicalities is advisable.

Rural home in Brazil built out of mud
Although often more usually associated with the dry tropics, mud has been used as a cheap and sustainable building material in the wet tropics for centuries, particularly in rural areas. Image: © Luciano Queiroz

The best soils for mud construction are ‘clays’, ‘clay loams’, ‘silty clay loams’, or ‘silty clays’. Even sandy clay loam could be made fit for construction by adding clay and straw content. Some types of earth can simply be mixed with water to a particular consistency, and then put into a mold to create mud bricks without the need to mix in other materials.

Overall, building with mud is a flexible process that can be altered based on location and type of soil but needs a basic understanding of the composition and consistency of the soil.

Forms of mud construction

WATTLE & DAUB

This is the oldest form of infill practice that is still used traditionally in some countries for rural homes and by many contemporary designers as an aesthetic element in their designs. With research, this technique has come a long way and is capable of building strong and airy envelopes by infilling the space between the timber or bamboo structural frame. It has two components: ‘wattle’ and ‘daub’.

Wattle is typically formed by wooden/bamboo strips or thin branches woven through upright stakes. It is often admired for the aesthetic texture and pattern it adds to the space. The weaving is then secured (to avoid moisture or water coming inside) by adding a layer of daub i.e., mud plaster over it.

Based on your design, you could also enjoy filtered light and breeze through the exposed wattles, if used in a shaded part of the façade. Such organic and aesthetic possibilities make this material more exciting when blended with contemporary designs.

RAMMED EARTH

Rammed earth construction is a process of compacting a combination of gravel, sand, silt and clay, into a formwork, which results in a beautiful layered and patterned wall, as if expressing the beauty of earth through it.

These types of walls have been constructed in all parts of the world, but the availability of the right composition of soil and skilled knowledgeable executors are the two major factors to get a successful and beautiful structure. With the advent of awareness of sustainable building solutions, many researchers and professionals have conquered this skill, so today such assistance should not be difficult to find.

Mud house under construction in Brazil
A mud house under construction in Planalto, Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Image: © Henrique Nishimura

It is the most beautiful and popular form of structural mud construction. Often, due to the volcanic nature of the soil, the right composition of soil for this type of construction is hard to find in some tropical areas, but if separate raw materials like sand, gravel, and small percentages of silt and clay are obtained from elsewhere, then you can have beautiful and strong accent walls with the elegant colored waves and smooth texture.

COB WALL CONSTRUCTION

This is the most heart-melting and versatile method of mud construction. This type of construction gives you the freedom of carving and impressions your walls as per your personality. You can carve out little niches and patterns in the wall before it dries.

It’s messy, but the most fun, where you can get involved in building your home. A mixture of soil, clay, cow dung, hay, cow urine, and lime is kneaded with tools, hands, or feet to make lumps that eventually form the wall when thrown with force in place and stacked.

The whole process and experience of waking up in such a personalized space is magical and induces a unique sense of belonging and happiness to everyday routine.

ADOBE (MUD BRICKS)

Adobe is a term for air-dried mud bricks, which are used as masonry units to build a wall. The appearance of this kind of construction is very similar to cob construction. These blocks are composed of mud (a mix of silt, sand and clay), water and straw that helps to bind the brick together.

This process is relatively very easy to construct and gives a humble appearance. Although it can be plastered with tinted mud for aesthetic reasons, with a projected roof and protection from water, it can stand a long and beautiful life.

EARTHBAG CONSTRUCTION

This is an ancient technique that is super easy to build. This is the only type of mud construction where the composition of the soil is not the most important. Earthbag construction has been trending in the last few years and has been known to create some amazing organic and domed spaces.

So, if you are crazy for domes, arched and flowing spaces, and afraid that you might not find the best soil, this is your go-to method.

Technical Advice

Many architectural firms are practicing mud architecture in various tropical regions. If you are convinced that it could be the right fit for you, then give them a call and explore your options. Although building a house with mud sounds easy, it is important to seek technical advice if you’ve not done it before – especially on the composition of the mud that you propose to use.

With everyone else around building with conventional concrete or timber construction, deciding to do something entirely different might sound intimidating. But trust me, if you take the first step, everything else will just fall into place, and you will have for yourself, not just a unique, but a calming envelope to spend your life in.



Advertisement

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here