Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Guesthouse & Waterless Toilet & Creativity Series

We had our first occupants stay in our guesthouse this past weekend. Kannan Narayanswamy, his wife Uma Iyer, and their daughter Navya enjoyed several nights inside the bamboo house. The first pilot family to enjoy a nights sleep welcomed this new building material, because of it's aesthetic quality, as well their passion for sustainable building materials for India. The nights were cold, compared to the average overnight temp for this region, and problems of cold drafts, and heat loss were noticed. Several factors are still to be addressed, and as we develop the prototype house for rural Indian citizens, we will build on past trial and errors.

Our waterless toilet design has come out well, and with the

help of Kannan Narayanswamy we have created a solution to the waste water produced my modern toilet designs. This will be part of a package that will include our rural housing design. We are building on site here, and it will be used by the artisans and visiting guests.

The foundation for the waterless toilet is three feet tall, and that will give us enough volume to house the human waste that will a crew in 6 months. Our design has two chambers, and each one will be used for 6 months and when one is full the other will be used. This allows for decomposition of waste, as well as a safe way for waste to be broken down. There will not be any urine or wash water mixed in with the solid waste. This helps in decomposition and bacterial build up. Once the chambers are full, is the responsibility of the user to empty each chamber, and mix it with compost to add to the nutrients of surrounding soil. We plan on having a green roof, therefore we will be using the solid matter for compost, and urine mixed with water to keep the plants healthy.

As the diagram displays above, the person will sit ground level and defecate in the brown hole, and urinate in the yellow rectangle. The separation of urine and feces, improves breakdown of solid matter, as well decreases the use of water. There is one wash basin for the user to wash themselves after doing their business. There is also a wash room to the left.

We have started to coordinate our first discussion series here at Wondergrass to encourage people of all ages, talents, and fields to share their passion and connection to the ability to create. This gift given to all of us, has many outlets, bamboo design, music, visual arts, and so many more. We have started to distribute to local colleges these fliers to let people know that there is a place to welcome all of those outlets. If you are in the area, please contact us, and we would be most welcoming.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Progress on Staircase

Our staircase to the apartment in the guesthouse is getting it's final touches done on it. Our inventory of bamboo consists of 2" to 3" diameter stocks of bamboo. Therefore we designed the staircase structure as a truss, and extended the webbing beyond the supports to form the treads and risers. We made a sample of this design several weeks ago, and it had three treads. To increase the strength we added more diagonal crossing to distribute the load for the people walking on the stairs.

Artistic expression through bamboo

Our guesthouse is now having it's final touches done on it. We started to expand on bamboo's tensile strength. Some of our window frames needed some innovation, so we took small slats of bamboo and bent them in wooden frames, resembling 3-d grids that extend inwards and outwards. We have been having fun at the many things that are allowed by bamboo's amazing flexibility.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Waterless Toilet & Outreach & R+D

We had another 200 students from a local elementary school come and take a tour of our guesthouse today. They were excited and liked climbing on all of the understory floor joists that resemble monkey bars. We tried to tell them as much as possible about the positive sides of building with bamboo. Hopefully, as the next generation grows up and wants to start a new family, they will look towards bamboo as a building material.

Our waterless toilet design is starting it's beginning
phases. We just starting digging for the foundation
today, and we chose a
site spot far from the work site, but near some sloped ground to take
advantage of the slope. This design is spearheaded by one of our architects, Sayali Andhare. She has researched and studied water toilet systems extensively, and found that this is exactly what Wondergrass should be implementing along with a bamboo house.

Here we have dug for the foundation, and tomorrow we will start laying down some precast concrete panels. We have been experimenting with some panels and the best way to reinforce them. We will now try to use G I sheet, for the interior reinforcement. It is relatively cheap, and is strong laterally as a tensile memeber

Our design for the waterless toilet uses a nice water catchment
scheme, that goes well with the rainy seasons of India. It will use bamboo as the structure and roof, as well as the paneling for the four sides. While the foundation will be of cement/brick.
This is going to go really well for the area currently surrounding the village of Payt. We are trying to forecast the acceptance of this facility in Indian house holds, and we are not sure how this will be viewed. This is a healthier and smarted choice for the proper disposal of human waste.

We have also started looking our structure for the new housing prototype for the bamboo house. We thought of extending the members of the truss, and using their strength as a way to stabelize the story above the ground floor. These members would be holding the wall, and they are secured at several points other than the bases. Further research is in development.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Outreach, workshop, and housing unit design

As part of Wondergrass's outreach program, a local elementary school of 200 students recently came to our construction site, and took a tour of our guesthouse. Grades of second to fifth, all ages seemed to be amused and excited to go inside a house that was not made of cement. These students live in villages similar to the majority of families all across India. They have below poverty level incomes, and some at middle class, and the families survive on manual labor jobs, or at best clerks or business men for local villages. The target audience for our planned rural housing initiative that is currently underway. We have completed a survey of qualitative and quantitative data that will help us with understanding the ideal Indian citizen that will benefit from a bamboo house. We have yet to publish those findings, until our urban study of similar framework is completed.

Concurrently, we are trying to introduce the urban application and finds it applicability. We came at this survey with an open mind, and structured the questioning in an objective way. This study will not only help Wondergrass, but also the vast majority of rural housing developers in India. It will also help rural industries tackle problems of poverty and where the sources are.
Apart from being extremely useful towards Wondergrass for it's use as a way to understand the housing client, but as well as future comparison studies, as to the effectiveness of building for a specific client in need, rather then the majority of rural citizens. It is a thin rope to walk across when introducing bamboo as an alternative buidling material to traditional rural families. We at Wondergrass know all about the positice attributes of bamboo as a better way of building homes for India. However, the perception of bamboo is a poor one.

The perception of bamboo across the building sectors is that of a weak material that is good for temporary structures, not ones that can last through generations. Undoubtly false, the stregnth of bamboo housing can be strong, durable, and stand the test of a growing family. Amazingly though, we have had alot of good positive feedback about our bamboo guesthouse. Though not identical to our new prototype housing unit that will be constructed this spring and summer, we are faithful in it's ability to last quite a while.

2nd Day of Artisans Workshop Underway

The second day of our workshop for artisans was a success, as well as fun. Some of our younger artisans had finally the time to sit down with some of the more experienced craftsman and learn the skills of sharpening, joinery, and producing a well made piece of artwork.
We have new artisans occasionally coming in, and to balance the talent is crucial in making a strong team of artists. Everything from sharpening to putting the last touches on the cement foundation should be understood by every craftsman at Wondergrass.

The second part of the workshop was lead my one of our architects, Sayali Andhare. An employee of Wondergrass for the past 2 months, Sayali has worked as an architect in India developing designs for cultural centers, housing, and several other sustainably developed projects.

And one of our interns from the United States was there to assist as well as learn the process of bamboo construction. We have a group
from varied backgrounds that makes for an interesting pool of

We will be holding our next workshop in some time, and we have several speakers scheduled to give talks on architecture, bamboo as a building source, as well as other alternative resources for building etc.
We build on this to make it a larger conference on the coming years,
and we hope to have this work site as a well known resource the general knowledge of bamboo

Housing Prototype for Rural Housing Underway

Our ongoing design for out adaptable housing that will be used as a prototype for rural housing is in some interesting developments. We are designing a small unit that will be used by small families, and as the family grows, this design will be adaptable to accommodate the change. This structure will extend up and out as the family needs develop. It's in it's infancy so we have further to develop the connections, as well as the in between spaces that add up. There will be updates on our progress, and feel free to input your feedback if you know of well known flexible housing structures in the world.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Wondergrass Workshop Commencement

Wondergrass has started it's monthly 2 day workshop starting with Vaibhav Kaley, CEO of Wondergrass, as the first speaker to introduce bamboo to the artisans. Part of a Wondergrass initiative, these workshops will host guest speakers as part of a bamboo resource center for the expansion of building with bamboo in Wondergrass and India. Starting with the basics, artisans are introduced to a formal setting for proper techniques, names of tools in several languages, as well as improving drawing skills so that more craftsmans can take designs into their own hands. This is an example of self empowerment and forward linkages that Wondergrass is developing for the implementation of bamboo in India. Introducing bamboo, and then pushing for an entrepreneurship attitude for others, further extending the placement of bamboo as a building material in India. This will also give us more confidence in the final outcome of our Guesthouse that is getting completed. Since bamboo is such an adaptive materials the capabilities are beyond a novices understanding. That is why creating such workshop and educative workshops is vital in showing the varied expressions that bamboo can make. Since Wondergrass is expanding in several different areas for using bamboo, housing, auditorium, tensile structures etc. the constant learning of bamboo's properties is done by all of us, not only the artisans. We continually redesign the way modern construction methods are used, so as to adapt to the use of bamboo. For example, the typical brick and cement house used for so many rural Indian homes, has become costly, environmentally wasteful with resources, and unsafe in earthquakes.Bamboo can solve all of these problems because of it's cost effectiveness, its a renewable resource, as well as it tensile strength matching that of steel to combat earthquakes. All of these facts are going to be covered in the coming months with our workshop's that will host guest lectures. If you are interested and have experience working with bamboo, please let us know, and we would like you to share your knowledge.

In our guest house facade we have given Danesh one of our artisans the task of building shutters for the ground story. They came out very well, and reflect the care taken into making them. They will be used near the ground entry, as well being operable, they will also provide an attractive light pattern on the interior during the sunset. The lightness and aestetic qualities of bamboo are wonderful to design with. It's quite a compliment to nature and an evolultion of building to use such materials like bamboo. Not only bamboo, but we have used mud plastering to create great wall facades that will absorb the heat in the day making a cool place to be. We have a three coat process in which we apply a liberal coat of water soaked mud, and let that dry. After that we apply a second coat on top of that to fill in cracking and displacment. As a finishing coat, we apply a thin layer of cow manuer. This acts as a binder and give the wall a strong skin to adhere to. We like this method for it's qualities of environmentally safe, user friendly, and affordable, however we would like to develop a material that is thinner and lasts longer with more use. Further research into that is needed.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Belgaum Processing Node

Wonder Grass and Bamboo-Tech, Belgaum have principally agree to enter into a joint initiative to establish and run a Processing-Node for Building-system requirements using Bamboo.

This is the first step in establishing similar such partnerships across India to build the backward linkage for Wonder Grass building-requirements in the urban and rural markets across India. The partnership enables these two organisations to bring together respective strengths and develop a synergy which will translate into increase in the capacity to provide bamboo building services on-call and on-demand.

A team of 3 artisans (Amol, Sachin and Pravin) from Wonder Grass have initiated the works at the Node. We started with sizing and grading of some of the bamboo purchased last year, and then moved onto procurement of new bamboo lot. Amit is a coordinator of works on ground while Samir provides oversight to the operations.
Mr. Kanbargi (senior) is taking a keen interest in the works at the day-to-day operations at the node, he is personally looking after the establishment of the center and giving directions to the team on ground.
The Workshed is being revamped and infrastructure is being developed as and when required. First set of treatment chambers and tanks started operations in the first week. The treatment and seasoning operations are in full swing, we are carrying out seasoning of 75-100 bamboo poles per day.

On the other hand we are developing a network of vendors and suppliers for bamboo. We are also in discussions with the Dept. of Forests to see if we can source bamboo from them on a regular basis. Initial discussions with the officials have been very encouraging.

This region is experiencing flowering of bamboo for a year now, this a very serious concern in this area. Huge bamboo stocks are still standing in the forests and drying, this needs urgent attention.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Guesthouse Furniture ready for Move-in

Ready for installation, our desk, and small coffee table are ready to installed into our Guesthouse ground floor, AKA design central. One of our carpenters made some great pieces using traditional wooden joinery, but adapted for bamboo. Realizing that bamboo is it's own element, it some weaknesses and strengths. But from pieces of furniture all the way up to guesthouses, the strengths can truly impress, while the weaknesses if not corrected, can truly terrify. So to say the least, we have some truly talented artisan working at our site currently. As of now we have several artisans working on the guesthouse, and experimental beams for out new housing prototype, and concurrently, we have several workers down in Bangalore installing bamboo panels. Here at Wondergrass, we have the constant task of managing several different projects of all types to all the different locations in India.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Final Phase of Construction

Things are looking like our Guesthouse is in it's final stages, and getting ready for some occupants. We have the flooring nearing completion, and some our artisans are completing the roof as I type this.With so many things happening here at Wondergrass it seems like we are at the center of sustainable building movement. Yesterday we had first year architecture students from a new arch university in Nagpur, India visit us and look around at what we are doing. Some students were eagerly impressed, and others looked at us, and said, "My family has been living in bamboo/mud house for 65 years, there is nothing new here. The mix of housing elements that India currently has, gives us the task of introducing the new, but giving it new appeal towards mainstream construction standards. It is a weekely accurance that someone gets in contact with or us or visa versa and we make a new connection for out product to reach more people. We have realized that durability will sell our bamboo homes as much as anything, and cost comes secondary. With bamboo, there is no problem with tension holding, but compression a problem with bamboo natural flexibility is a task we are currently taking on. In the past we have set up some worth while testing on different composite beams. Several years ago we built a ground plus one story structure, and the beam we used was a closed web plywood insert truss. We tested it with at least 900lbs of concrete bags and it held with great strength.Using plywood for insert is structurally stable, however we are not happy with using plywood as it has a high embodied energy, as well as it cost. Over the years we have used different strength truss/beams for different uses. We are now working with bamboo open web trusses that mimic commercial open web trusses sold on the market. If this brings successful results, we will be using these trusses more often. There advantage is that they use less metal fasteners, and also create less time for construction. At wondergrass we always have to balance construction with a bit of artistic design. We have finished one of our mosaic tile patterns, and we are happy with the results. Since this space is going to be out HeadQuarters in Bamboo housing design the intent to make this place as pleasant as possible is necessary. Below is a picture of our roof tiling. We are using traditional tiles made by local craftsman. These "country" tiles are half round mud tiles, that can be made rather quickly, and are very cheap. Vicenta' is currently finishing up the last swath of tiles, and fortunately, if a rain comes, we will be prepared.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Progress on the guesthouse is moving along. We have recently had some heavy rain in the region and construction was slowed, but things are looking good so far. The wattle and daub is working out well, we have decided to alternate the wattle from horizontal to vertical on some panels. We wanted to see the effectiveness of the way to which we put the wattle, and see how the daub holds up. Out method is applying mud directly on the wattle, and covering that with a layer of cow manure. This acts as a binder and harder coat on top of the mud. We have also started to lay down the tiling and mosaic for the
ground floor.

We have used large stone tiles for the majority of the ground floor, and for the remaining area, we designed some simple china mosaic patterns. This building has been a learning process for Wondergrass, and will in the future house the students of bamboo.

My illuminating experiences @ Peth

The spirit of Independence was in the air when I reached site on the 14th of August. The artisans and the whole team were busy with the preparation works. Mr.Motiram Ji the village head hoisted the flag on the 15th morning keeping the tri-colored Indian flag high. The artisans sang and played the Harmonium and Tabla as a part of the celebrations.

When I had to move into the village, I was filled with fear as I knew absolutely nobody or the place as well. It was a great challenge to converse with everyone with the ‘GREAT HINDI” I knew. It was a difficult start though, as days passed by, I made myself comfortable working with the artisans and conversing with them.

Oh! Not to forget I had to teach them to speak in English which was one of the next greatest challenges for me .As I was never a great teacher. I had to find and incorporate newer ideas and prospects to teach them and make the classes interesting to a varied age group of people. The new ideas included playing dumb charades, pictionary, singing, etc. It was a great experience of learning and understanding the life of artisans from a very close quarter.

Dumb charades and Pictionary were so much fun as their way of interpreting things were so very different from the so called “civilized urban citizens”. So many such things made me realize that we make our simple life so very complicated and finally invent solutions to solve the problems we interweave.

The most expected “TUESDAYS – village market” was the day when everybody could freak out to have those hot jalebis, samosas and all the other village delicacies. This was a day of shopping too for the artisans and all the villagers.

The “Boating” @ a dam located nearby the village was a very fearful entertainment to say. It definitely was a very different experience to boat without any skilled boatmen or safety tubes/accessories or any organization that takes care off. Driving along with nature as it can be called.

Moving on to the most important aspect of my learning with the material directly was a great exposure and experience. As days moved along, I learnt to design a staircase, though it might not have proved to be a great success. Working with the material and the hand tools which the artisans themselves used were all a massive exercise. It was easier for me to perceive the bamboo construction techniques from the guest house that was being constructed during my stay there.

To end with, the villagers were very friendly and loving who would invite me to their homes to share their special native delicacies. The village life and the people around kept me occupied throughout the day.

Artisan team I worked with included:

* Amol, Sachin(byle, bomb wala and water tank), Vinay, Santhosh (chotta byle), Gajanand, Yohesh (Guruji), Praveen, Rajanna, Santhosh, Shankar, Surrendar (Style), Sunil and Vasantha Bhayya (caretaker).