Earthly Yours and the smell of mid-summer rain
It was sometime mid-summer, our last day on site. The air was still. The lemon tree outside the window had dried, and the leaves had curled up to a dry crunch. Even the tiny leaf caught in the cobweb of the window was suspended in eerie stillness. ‘Yene heli saar, finishing aadru, hosa mane vasne barta illa’ said Thirupati, with a smile that was pulled into his cheek to make it a smirk. (‘Whatever you say, this house doesn't smell new!’)
Over years of attending Gruhapraveshas, (house-warming ceremonies) it was true that each memory had the same background of smells. A new home is a big move in anyone’s life. It tends to stick in your memory, and as Tirupathi rightly pointed out, this house, on the last day of its finishing works, didn't smell one bit like a new house. No smell of paint, No volatile organic compounds, no rubber based adhesives, no glues, no acrylics.
Instead, it smelled of rain.
‘The simplest answer is usually the correct one’ wrote William Frair, setting down the principle known as Occam's razor. With sustainability too, it seems to be the most straightforward way of looking at things. The most obvious way of reducing our resource usage is to not do anything. But when we have to, we should try to use the least amount of resources that we can.
For most of our team, the journey began almost a decade ago, with trying to simply understand what goes into our buildings. Which material do we use and for what. Do Alternatives exist? Can the same thing be achieved with lesser resources, in a more ecologically, socially and economically conscious way? Over the years of building with natural materials, training ourselves and the artisans in numerous earth techniques, each of us developed a lingering fascination for natural finishing plasters. It was with this foundation that we started off almost 5 years ago to set up base in Bangalore, and start from ground zero on sourcing materials, conversing with artisans, building a team of contractors who were all new to the idea of sustainability.
Even with natural plasters and finishes, the premise is the same as that of our approach to natural buildings. We use natural materials. Materials that need little or no processing which would ensure that one day, the materials go back to earth the way they once were. Traditional artisans and masons knew this by blood. Knowledge passed down from generations enabled them to use specific materials available within arms reach to construct, finish, and even decorate their homes and buildings.
Our process has been to draw inspiration from such traditional techniques and engineer them to match contemporary expectations in terms of aesthetics, logistics and economy. Each culture of people used raw materials in their own unique way. Across the world, different regions expressed differently with the same material. Studying these practices combined with the team’s unending love for hands-on involvement helped us create and curate a set of finishes from the materials that were available to us locally.
The need for being conscious in the kind of work we do and the way we grow has fostered a certain closeness within what we consider as the extended family of earthly yours. Most of our artisans come from a village called Tirupattur and are all from interlinked families. The fibres, grass and cut hay are sourced and manually processed in a village in Tumkur district that is very dear to us. We know the people and sources of earth, lime and aggregates. There is always a continuous effort going in to sourcing materials that come from sources that are ecologically, socially and economically responsible.
In our office we often say that the plaster is made up of more than just clay, lime, dust and pigments, It is a mix of all of this and our beliefs and aspirations. So yes dear Thirupati, when the final mix is applied, and it gains a shine and starts to harden, it doesn't smell like a new house to you. It smells of the earth that it is going to return to. There are parts of it we need to understand better, there are parts that you know better, there are parts that we need to talk about. But for now, we could all get used to this- the smell of rain on a mid-summer day.