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Building walls with earth

 

With scientifically improvised technology, mud buildings can be made to last for centuries, contrary to common belief. By architect Sathya Prakash Varanashi

It is a curious phenomenon – we all live in a planet called Earth, walk upon it, build shelters with it, and eat from it, yet we are on our way to destroy it As such, re-connecting with the Earth appears to be among the major solutions to the climate crisis. Given this, in the construction sector, we need to return to Earth, in all its terms and versions like soil, mud, terracotta, clay, silt, gravel, sand or stone.

Let us ask ourselves a simple multiple-choice question. Among all existing structures in the world, what could be the most commonly found wall material? Choice of answers – stone, mud, burnt bricks, wood. Anyone with common sense may answer it as ‘it could be mud’. Besides being the most common and most historic, mud walls have much to tell about how we lived in the past, for they sheltered the history of human civilisations. Incidentally, mud walls have a future too, in these days of climate change and ecological challenges.

The construction industry today is being blamed for one-third of GHG (Green House Gas) emissions, hence is at a crossroads. To mitigate this crisis, there is an urgent need to minimise manufactured materials and promote natural materials. The least we can do is to attempt a synthesis of traditional construction systems and modern creativity.

This is where mud architecture comes in handy. The methods of improvising traditional systems has re-validated the use of mud, to claim a pole position towards sustainable architecture.

No modern material replacing mud is yet to equal all the qualities of mud walls. It has the lowest cost in most regions; lowest embodied energy; highest insulation from heat gain; option of using mud plastering; possibility of coating wide range of natural colours; option for bamboo or steel reinforcement; and can be used for all parts of the buildings right from foundation to roof. With scientifically improvised technology today, mud buildings can be made to last for centuries. Unfortunately, too many myths have been spread about mud, including it cracks, taking time to build, difficult to repair, monotonous and such others, as if modern construction methods are devoid of all these. This myth has come to stay, despite the fact that the way traditional mud houses lasted for centuries modern ones may not, which everyone is aware of.

So, the hesitation to build an earthy building appears to come more from fear and apprehension, than from knowledge and experience. Fortunately, mud walls are making a big return in modern architecture, though it is limited to certain regions only.

The technology of rammed earth walls has now been researched into fairly deeply and proven by various institutions such as Mrinmayee, Auroville Earth Institute, and Hunnarshala Foundation, besides many individual consultants. It is time to consider building walls with earth seriously, to save ourselves.

Source The Hindu

Every breath you take

Every breath you take may not be cleaner than the air outside. With the issue of air pollution making the news every day, are we really safe in the confines of our homes?

As you step out in the morning on your way to work, you can’t help, but notice the thick blanket of smog over the city. You rush to work so you can get into the safety of your air-conditioned office. But is the air in your office any better?

According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), Delhi and Cairo have the worst PM10 pollution levels out of the world’s megacities. The study further reveals that indoor air pollution contributes between 22 and 52 percent to the overall pollution levels.

Barun Aggarwal, CEO, Breathe Easy Consultants, opines that while the composition of indoor air is different from outside air quality, it can be equally harmful. “Air pollution is dynamic. In India, Particulate Matter (PM) is extremely high in most cities. And since most of us spend almost 90 percent of our time indoors (office, schools, home), the risk of getting exposed to it is high.”

A WHO study states that air pollution is responsible for the deaths of seven million people worldwide each year; most of them residing in Asia and Africa. Of the seven million, 3.8 million were from indoor air pollution ( due to cook stoves), which is a huge problem in India.

Indoor quality is determined by Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), bio-aerosols and nitrous oxides (cooking gas), and is also influenced by pollution caused by vehicles and industrial plants. Anumita Roychowdhury, head of the Centre for Science and Environment’s (CSE) air pollution programme explains, “The main culprits are VOCs that may be released by various sources including paints, glues, resins, polishing materials, and furnishings as well as a lack of proper ventilation and breeding of moulds. Hence, it is important to pay attention to the materials we use indoors since the ability to avoid pollution here is in our hands.”

The Centre introduced several measures and programmes to improve air quality indoors.

One such initiative was providing around 37 million poor women with free gas connections to encourage them to switch from coal/dung-fired clay ovens to cooking gas. However, in an urban setting, it is not just cooking that we need to worry about.

Rajat Malhotra, COO for IFM in West Asia and head of JLL points out, “CO2 levels in our bedrooms are more than six times the CO2 levels outside. Air quality within our office/ workspaces and rooms is much unhealthier. Till the WHO report was published, we were kept blinkered and blindfolded for so many years. Today, people want to know what is happening.” However, Roychowdhury asserts that built-in design intervention in buildings is a critical aspect.

“It is essential to pay a lot more attention to the architectural and building design, and it should become a part of the building by-laws to ensure that they meet the health indicators associated with the indoor air quality,” she explains, adding that despite guidelines by the Central Pollution Control Board, there is still no active implementation.

On the same note, Sujatha Ganapathy, VC – WELL AP, Knight Frank India, concludes, “At the government level, better transportation and construction methods will help control pollution levels. That means using low VOC content in buildings, and reducing the creation of dust in constructions, which is classified as PM10 and can cause a wide range of health problems including respiratory illnesses.”

Solutions:Use a dehumidifier and/ or air conditioner to reduce moisture;

Keep trash covered to avoid attracting pests;

Minimise air freshener use;

Ensure that exhaust fans are functional in your bathrooms andkitchen;

Avoid scented candles;

Keep plants indoors, which can significantly reduce indoor air pollution;

Using LPG instead of biomass fuel for cooking can significantly reduce the level of indoor
pollution.

Deborah Pereira, Times Property, The Times of India, Chennai

A century-old residence gets a makeover in Chennai

Art of fine living The original porch was given a glamorous touch (above and left) while the living room turned more vibrant (right). The library (extreme right) began to let in more light and look trendier. Photos: Pallon DaruwalaArt of fine living The original porch was given a glamorous touch (above and left) while the living room turned more vibrant (right). The library (extreme right) began to let in more light and look trendier. Photos: Pallon Daruwala

A century-old residence gets a makeover, yet retains its glory at the hands of architect Husna Rahaman who deftly plays with hues and patterns. By Nandhini Sundar

When faced with a century-old residence or even one that is half the age, the immediate reaction is to demolish and develop the site or build a fabulous contemporary dwelling, money and space permitting. Restoring such a building to its former glory is beyond the radar, especially given the economics behind such an initiative. The state of the structure and the lifestyle the interior facilities offer, further promote this inclination.

Old living room

Old living room

Yet, one such stately colonial residence came up, not for being rebuilt, but for restoration, keeping intact the fibre of the structure while infusing just the right level of contemporary comforts.

When architect Husna Rahaman of Fulcrum Studio was given the century-old sprawling 7,000 sq. ft colonial home for restoration, the structure essentially a no-nonsense load-bearing piece of engineering that cannot be tampered with on whim, she realised that strategic alterations, if any, could happen only where absolutely necessary.

New-look living area

New-look living area

The entire restoration thus occurred on a delicate balance of reverence and relevance, the regal aura retained while the modern functional quotient was brought in where relevant.

Profusion of hues, patterns

In tune with the era it related to, the residence came with its accompanying hues and patterns that literally saturated the spaces, the patterned antique floor and wall tiles engulfing the ambience. Without shunning this past grandeur, Rahaman set about managing deftly the play of hues and patterns where they would enchant and refresh, without submerging the senses.

Porch after restoration

Porch after restoration

“It was literally a riot of colours and this base was used as a spring board to complement the residence where it is not eliminated but used to balance”, she explains. Keeping this intent in perspective, an elegant network of wood verticals and horizontals were brought in to frame the length and breadth of the expansive living area. A new set of chandeliers were added, yet the design of these were kept deliberately colonial in keeping with the structure.

The rich flooring was retained, along with the porcelain tile dadoing on the walls, both in the living area as well as rest of the residence. A refreshing contemporary twist was brought into the space by introducing metal motifs on the walls, the motifs reflecting the existing patterns. While the walls and ceiling continue to accommodate the wooden columns and beams, a reminder of the colonial past, the contemporary flavour wafts into the spaces through concealed lights and metal motifs.

Contemporary upgrade

The living area reveals the presence of two groups of furniture, each connected by a large back-to-back sofa cluster. The unusual blend of materials and styles seen in the living area and carried methodically into the rest of the residence, where luxury is paired with minimalism and exquisite Indian crafts tie in seamlessly with streamlined forms, reveals a reverential contemporary upgrade of a glorious past.

Lovely library

Lovely library

While the strong imperial character of the structure has been reverentially retained, the spaces have been infused with warmth to address the home it ultimately is. This has been successfully achieved through application of soft roses on the walls, neutral colours with subtle pops of colour in the rugs, strips of wallpaper and cushions in shades of pink and orange.

Likewise, the spatial poetry of the house, an element lacking in modern crowded structures, has been preserved to integrate the multiple rooms, where the past meets the present, opening the spaces to surreal vistas.

Infusing metal

Given the era of the residence, metal does not figure in its construction. Yet, a contemporary twist has been brought in by infusing metal craftily into the stately space, lightening the palette. The floral medallion in the living area serves as a symbolic confluence of the metallic motifs used in the rest of the residence. Metal also features as an artistic railing for the staircase, replacing the previous cement and brick staircase. The terrace further reveals a stunning dark grey metal gazebo to unwind and relax, besides serving as an entertainment zone when need arises.

Sun room

The first level of the building came with narrow spaces, yet the interiors were filled with abundant natural light. Rahaman decided to capture this effectively to create a sunny library. “The room came with its quota of colours and patterns like the rest of the house and the space was converted into a turquoise library with a western exposure by merely introducing rugs into the space.”

The ‘sun room’ reveals rugs in intense hues of ochre and turquoise blue, soaked in geometric patterns where they define the floor, with the turquoise blue and wood verticals on the walls complementing the same. Vibrant in conception, the space greets with a burst of exuberance, the twin daybeds created between the columns further enhancing with their presence.

Source The Hindu

Google gets ‘Neighbourly’, to add more cities in India including Chennai

Bengaluru, Delhi top waitlist; Chennai, Hyderabad on cards

Google has announced the national roll-out of a new app from its ‘Next Billion Users’ team called ‘Neighbourly,’ which helps people source local information from their neighbours.

With more than 1.5 million downloads and half-a-million people on the waitlist, Google is rolling out ‘Neighbourly’ starting with Bengaluru and Delhi, which topped the waitlist.

Over the next few weeks, more cities will be added every day, including Chennai, Hyderabad and Pune. Some other cities include Kolkata, Chandigarh, Lucknow and Indore.

The ‘Neighbourly’ app has already made inroads in popular neighbourhoods in Mumbai first, followed by cities like Jaipur, Mysore, Vizag, Kochi and Coimbatore.

Ben Fohner, senior product manager on Google’s Next Billion Users team, said humans are the core part of the app as the information that users get from ‘Neighbourly’ comes from people based on their ‘experiences’ and not from a website.

Mr. Fohner said the process of creating ‘Neighbourly’ starting from research, testing, to the launch and expansion of the product was all focused on India. “But looking beyond [India] obviously this need exists everywhere and our hope is that we can take what we’ve learned from building ‘Neighbourly’ here and expand that to other countries as well. [But] it is not something we are doing immediately,” said Mr. Fohner. However, he did not share insights about how Google was planning to monetise this product.

‘From gas to jumbos’

Google said people are integrating ‘Neighbourly’ into their routines, asking just about anything from finding the source of an LPG odour to knowing “why there are elephants on the street outside?”

Each city’s distinct personality came out in the types of questions people are asking and answering. For example, Mumbai saw questions about flooded areas during the heavy rains, finding the nearest ‘Dahi Handi’ celebration and the time when a ‘vada pav’ seller comes to a particular locality.

Families and housewives in Coimbatore sought advice on shopping for festivals. Jaipur’s student community, which is active on the app, asked questions relevant to their studies such as finding information about “good accounting coaching.” Recent shifters in Mysore use ‘Neighbourly’ to help them find information about their new routines such as “getting a water purifier service,” according to the company.

The Hindu

Points to consider before investing in a villa

Points to consider before investing in a villa

An independent house was what K Sathya Anand was looking for, and hence the villa at Thalambur was his best option.

There are many points to be considered before investing in a house. There is no rulebook dictating these guidelines since it will vary according to the personal choices of a person. For example, a person who loves the company of neighbours and prefers the amenities, which are provided within various apartment complexes, would choose to buy a flat that is located in a building, among other houses.

But for some, like K Sathya Anand, the Vice-President of a global financial technology company, it is essential to have some space around the house. He was not too comfortable with living in an apartment, in a building. So he opted to buy an independent home in Navalur.

He purchased a villa in Thalambur, in December 2017. “We wanted to live in a place that was not too cramped. And we wanted a good amount of space around it, and that’s why this villa perfectly fit the bill. Both, my children and parents now have enough space. Kids have the space to play. The house is well ventilated and well-lit. All these were driving factors behind the investment,” he says.

He wanted to buy a house in a place where there was no water logging. He also ensured that the roads in the particular area were wide. “Besides, this place is a serene spot. There is so much of green cover in the neighbourhood,” he adds.

The 4-BHK house costs approximately Rs 4,000 per sqft. He believes that the decision to buy a home should be well-thought and people should not rush to purchase a property. He advises, “Check and assess your finances, only then purchase a house. Have some savings left in the bank and do not put all your money in one place.”

Ranjitha G, Times Property, The Times of India, Chennai

Making Chennai brave the weather Editor

The flat terrain of Chennai demands that we find efficient ways to tackle the rainy season and the flood it brings with it. The city is not Monsoon ready though.

Come monsoon, and the city of Chennai is seen grappling with various problems – the most glaring one among them being infrastructure that, at times, cannot handle even short spells of rain. The consequences of these issues include stagnant water and flooded houses that lead to other problems like water borne diseases or sanitation issues.

While the city receives rainfall every now and then, the crucial question remains if the city is prepared for the rainfall. Kiran Rajashekariah, an expert in urban policy and planning, explains “This year the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted normal rainfall, which means there will be a little more than average amount of rainfall. The cities, including Chennai, need to prepare for the monsoon. The problem is our arrangements (solutions) are on ad-hoc basis. We come up with temporary solutions to resolve the problems. This should not be the case.”

Nalas to the rescue

The problem lies not in excess rains or for that matter even average rains. The lack of sound drainage system is one of the problems that leads to the flooding of roads. But that is not all. Rajashekariah elaborates: “Chennai is a city that is on a lower elevation, a few feet above sea level. So, the chances of flooding are higher. Restoring natural drains, often referred to as nalas, should be the foremost priority, which will be a long-term solution. Wetlands, in the natural topography, act as a sponge which absorb and store water. Due to rapid urbanisation and the resulting change of land use, they have been encroached upon, and destroyed. Also, roads are designed in such a way that the water will not percolate into the ground. All that needs to change.”

The city on the other hand is trying to cope up with the rainy season by making a few improvements.

He strongly insists that effective maintenance of the four major waterways, 30 canals that run through the city, and the numerous temple ponds, is imperative for the safety of the city.

The ISWD project is one of the ambitious plans of the government but there are reports that indicate it could be delayed by another few months.

According to Shaju Thomas, Director, Office Services (Chennai) at Colliers International India, “This means that the city may not actually be ready to face what the northeast showers could bring about. While a lot of plans are being thought about, including construction of missing storm water drain links, desilting tank beds and the like; one is yet to see action on ground. Apart from the government, there are a lot of things the common man should ensure as well,” he says and adds, “Free flowing drains get choked with garbage that gets dumped irresponsibly. There are many cases of unfinished storm water drains ending up as garbage dumpyards and one that stands out is on the Velachery-Taramani bypass road, where thanks to increased retail activity and disregard for the ecosystem, citizens of the city continue to dump just about anything. The area has always been known to be low-lying, which requires to be treated with extreme care.”

A Shankar, Coo, Strategic Consulting (India And Sri Lanka), JLL India, Says, A detailed project report had been prepared in 2016, for Kosasthalaiyaru, Cooum, Adyar and Kovalam basin for a length of 1069 kilometres at a total cost of Rs 4034.30 crore

This forms part of activities planned under Phase 1 of the Integrated Storm Water Drain (ISWD) project for improvement of the basins.

Improvement activities under this project and projects such as the Chennai Mega City Development Mission, covering other extended areas and the core city must be expedited.

Considering that the city is prone to floods and cyclones attributed to rapid development, it is vital that the initiatives to prevent these calamities, be progressive and planned to keep up with the pace of developmental activities.

source Ranjitha G, Times Property, The Times of India, Chennai

Parent documents mandatory for land registrations in Tamil Nadu

Parent documents mandatory for land registrations in Tamil Nadu

Three days after mandating parent documents for registering properties, the registration department has eased the process. Now, the sub registrar offices will accept statement from banks that they were in possession of the parent documents, in case of mortgage. This apart, a written undertaking is necessary for laminated parent document that cannot be scanned for registrations. Furnishing parent document was mandated from June 11 to prevent fraudulent registrations.

In a circular, the inspector general of registration said that people, whose parent documents are with the financial institutions, can furnish statement from the respective banks that financial institutions are possessing the parent documents. The statement can be considered as a document for registrations, it added. As far as registration of plots and flats are concerned, the parent document was required to facilitate registration of the first unit from the same property. “However, the parent document is must during the resale of property to another person,” the circular added.

The registrations department made parent document an essential document for property registrations, wherein the document would be completely scanned by the sub registrar ahead of processing the registration. However, sources said, it caused inconvenience for the public since not all those registering their properties had the parent document, which are lying in different places including mortgaged with banks. Also scanning every document at the sub registrar office led to delay in registrations.

Against this backdrop, the registration department issued certain clarifications on June 13 to its previous order stating that only the first page of the parent document would be scanned for the verification purpose. It further said that those coming for registration must give an undertaking that documents, which are laminated could not be scanned for registration of land documents.

Source: Economic Times, Chennai

Chennai Metro Rail: Track work on Anna Salai underground line nearing completion

Chennai Metro Rail: Track work on Anna Salai underground line nearing completion

Laying of tracks in the underground section on the Anna Salai has reached the final stages.

Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) has floated tenders for the final finishing of track works from AG-DMS to Thousand Lights. The remaining 10km section of phase-1 between Washermenpet and AG-DMS is expected to be ready by December 2018.

While the laying of tracks has been completed, CMRL is now looking for a company to do finishing work on the downline for a stretch of 1.7km.

“Track work is still underway between Central Metro and Government Estate. We are likely to begin trial run by September,” an official said.

Metro trains are operated on ballastless tracks.

Construction of the stations and its entry structure is in full-swing between Government Estate and AG-DMS. One of the entry structures of stations Government Estate and AG-DMS is being integrated with the existing pedestrian subway.

Civil and track work between Washermenpet and Central Metro stations are nearing completion and installation of signal systems have begun.

U Tejonmayam, The Times of India, Chennai

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