Traditional building methods
Amrita SeRVe is committed to preserving and developing traditional building methods. Every village community has special techniques using locally available natural materials. With the rise of ferro-cement construction, these methods have been neglected, leaving very few knowledge-bearers alive from the olden days. Techniques ranging from clay tiles or thatched roofs to wood carving and mud buildings have endured decades with little or no maintenance. The greatest advantage of natural building materials over cement is the thermal properties of the houses. Regardless of whether it is burning hot or freezing cold, traditional buildings tend to maintain a comfortable climate inside. On top of that, all the materials are nontoxic and therefore decay without harm if abandoned.
Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham’s is presently conducting research on the methods of tribal craftsmanship. Blending contemporary practices with traditional techniques paves the way for innovation, especially in the area of weather resistance. As such, a team has begun exploring the benefits of the cutting edge construction material, Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks (CSEBs), by constructing a model house on the Amrita’s Coimbatore campus.
Because Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham’s activities are closely coupled with in-depth research in the tribal villages, a vast number of advancements are expected in this area over the coming years.
Since its inception in 1998, The MA Math’s Amrita Kuteeram project has constructed more than 45,000 free homes for the poorest people across the country. When Amrita SeRVe started its work in the villages, there were some families who did not have a proper home or the means to build one for themselves. For these families, 39 houses were constructed across eight states.
Over the last two centuries, the vast deforestation surrounding the villages has been so severe that today only a handful of isolated trees can be found in the midst of dusty fields or plain grasslands. This has a serious impact on agriculture and groundwater levels. Forests maintain soil fertility and cool local temperatures, allowing rainwater to sink into the ground. With their strong roots and branches, trees provide protection from landslides, flooding and strong winds. Relentless forest clearing has resulted in receding forest boundaries, leading to droughts and extreme weather.
Amrita SeRVe supports tree planting through sapling subsidisation and seed-ball preparations. Since planting a tree is a lifelong investment, emphasis is placed on the environmental education of school children. For example, on World Environment Day (5th of June), children were taught how to prepare seed-balls from a mixture of soil, cow dung and fertilising herbs such as Neem. One or several seeds is enclosed in this mixture, dried in the sun, and then placed in any available space just before the onset of monsoon rains. This ensures the sprouting and growth of the plants.
The most important end-use of electricity is the lighting of homes and streets. Houses in the villages often have very small windows, allowing only tiny amounts of natural light to enter. Especially at night, the rooms are immersed in darkness. Not only does the lack of lighting pose a challenge for women when they are cooking; it seriously limits the ability of school children to do their homework. An absence of light also carries a feeling of vulnerability, making walks along unlit roads an uncomfortable, and even dangerous, experience.
Although the government recently announced that the last Indian villages have finally been connected to the national grid, the supply is sometimes interrupted, usually at crucial times. In such scenarios, it is preferable to install small solar-powered home lighting systems, consisting of one small panel, a battery unit and three lights. Amrita SeRVe, together with Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham’s Center for Wireless Networks and Applications (WNA), has fitted such systems to homes in Chhattisgarh and Kerala. In some of these locations, solar streetlights have been installed and local residents trained in their maintenance. Some larger projects implemented in Kerala include a solar micro-grid installed in the Wayanad District and a hydroelectric power plant commissioned in the Idukki District. Both plants are self-sufficient, providing a steady supply of electricity to all the households in each community. These systems were pioneered by students and faculty of WNA while the actual work in the villages was facilitated through the Live-in-Labs® programme together with Amrita SeRVe.