Au naturel: City folk are taking to natural materials, building own homes

Uttarakhand-based social enterprise Geeli Mitti holds workshops to teach people to build homes using natural materials, such as earth-filled jute bags.

This month, Mumbai-based digital marketing executive Nidhi Rana, 32, spent a week in Manali building a home out of natural materials. She learnt to identify different types of soil, figured out how to use lime in a mud plaster and covered a wall with it.

Rana was among 22 participants, architects and non-architects, who attended a workshop organised by the sustainable architecture firm Put Your Hands Together.

“I realised that working with natural materials isn’t difficult. All it requires is knowledge and some practice,” says Rana, who plans to use these techniques at her 2BHK flat in Malad. “I plan to incorporate mud plaster in parts of my house. I would also like to explore how I can incorporate lime in the wall plasters.”

Writers, firefighters, government servants, marketing executives, senior citizens, housewives, teachers and even children are getting their hands (and feet) dirty as they explore new ways to build homes. They’re learning how to hand-sculpt elements of a home and, in certain cases, build and live in one too.

From the earth, of the earth

“These homes generally belong to people who are moving from an urban lifestyle to a more rural or sustainable one. So you’ll find the structures in semi-urban and semi-rural areas,” says architect Malaksingh Gill, who has been practising eco-friendly architecture since 1999 and has worked on projects in Karjat, Palghar, Wardha and the outskirts of Pune where future owners helped build their living spaces.

Recently, Geeli Mitti erected a Hobbit-style mud home under the guidance of French sculptor Brice Mathey, known for his dome-shaped sustainable structures.

One such mud home on a farm in Sanaswadi on the outskirts of Pune was built by sisters Apoorva and Aditi Sancheti in 2012, on part of their organic farm. “Living on the farm helped us work more intensively,” says Apoorva, 28. “As city dwellers, we don’t create enough with our hands.”

They faced several challenges – from finding the right type of soil to getting rid of termites in the flooring (by laying stone). “Now, we re-plaster the house once annually. Living in a house you’ve built with your own hands is satisfying,” Apoorva says.