Friday, January 29, 2010

Structural Testing & Astronomy 101

Wonder Grass is proud to have started a collaboration with Mr. A. M. Shingarey. Mr. Shingarey who is a civil engineer with a post-graduation in Geotechnical Engineering from IIT Bombay (1978) will be assisting Wonder Grass in it's housing R&D as well as giving our research some professional credibility which is needed in the introduction of bamboo into the serious main stream building arena. Geo tech industries started with a small setup of laboratory and field testing - mostly covering the determination of physical and engineering properties of soils, the firm has continuously widened its scope. At present, it is the largest and most professionally managed laboratory in Central India with test facilities for soil, rock, cement, concrete, bitumen, building material and chemical analysis. With this kind
of collaboration, Wonder Grass will be become part of the pioneers
in bamboo building systems.

We are also happy to have the second lecture of our first of the month lecture series that is going to dive into the realm of astronomy. Our friend and avid astronomer Pramod Joshi will be sharing his knowledge of astronomy, and teaching our audience about constellations, the life of a star, and many more out of this world knowledge. He will also bring his telescopes that he made himself using innovative technology.
Please stay tuned for pictures, and amazing opportunities to see the work that Wondergrass does in this world, and others!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

India Republic Day & Waterless Toilet Construction Update

The Republic Day of India commemorates the date on which the Constitution of India came into force replacing the Government of India Act 1935 as the governing document of India on January 26, 1950.[1] The date 26 January was chosen to honour the memory of the declaration of independence of 1930. It is one of the three national holidays in India, and while the main parade, Republic Day Parade takes place at the Rajpath, in the national capital New Delhi, where the President views the parade, state capitals also have their state celebrations. This is one of the most important dates for the country of
India. Flags were held high, and so were the
smiles from all of the festivities.

We also had a great introduction to the local village of our waterless toilet conducted by our site foreman Vasante'. Families took the Sunday afternoon to look around and learn about the positive attributes of a waterless toilet. Working similar to a close system, this package integrates a design that allows the user to separate the solids, liquids, and waste water into three different disposal areas. This allows the user to conserve water, use valuable human manure for farming, and or organic fertilizer, as well as improve the envirionment of their area. This idea is a new one, and we are not sure how this will be viewed quite yet by the rural masses. Although it is a good design, it all depends on the user to see it's success. As for the bamboo part of things, we have the bamboo structure setting on the three foot stem wall that encases the waste chambers, and the bathing area.
We are going to learn a lot from this trial latrine, and feel this is necessary before investing it as a package with the bamboo home. We fortunately have the work crew at the site to be our water less toilet Ginnie pigs. They will probably have a lot of valuable feedback, that we might not of thought about. Also the cost of the system needs to be reduced drastically. Being a system for affordable rural housing, it has to fit into a families financial abilities. Our main concern is to alleviate the unnecessary habit of defecating in the open fields and by/in near by water sources.This poses sanitation problem of contaminated water streams, and spreading of disease. If we can concentrate the solid human waste, use it to our advantage and reduce water consumption, we have made leaps and bounds. This also gives us the opportunity to experiment with new types of building systems that can be used for our housing projects, and building schemes for future use. Because this structure is such a tall one, we are bracing from the fall and spring winds that can easily push such a broad structure over. On either short ends we have put some "x" bracing that will preventing from falling over like a deck of cards, as well some newly designed knee bracing that extends from the over head beams. Simple 1' deep open web bamboo beams are laid long ways, and smaller 7'deep open web bamboo beams are inserted into the beams running long ways. The building's dimensions are 4' x 8' and that makes it rather small to design for. However, we have tried to bridge the designs that we have developed with the existing housing designs that Indian rural citizens have been using for well over 80 years. On top of the latrine there will be a
concrete slab that will be used to store dried firewood, be a floor for drying grains, vegetables, and spies, as well a nice to be on a hot night.
If this systems seems appropriate then we will be using it for many applications. Recent posts give more detail of the structural systems that I am referring to .

We have also had the opportunity to develop more metal joints/connector systems for our waterless toilet and future prototype house. Our designer from the U.S. has put together over 6 metal joints that work well, and have different applications. We will be using two for the system of the latrine, and the rest have been giving us new ideas about the
structures that can now
be created easily. Made from scratch out of sheets of 2mm and 3mm
sheet steel, these gusset plates, brackets, clips, and connectors are
easy alternatives to rope, nut/bolt, and resin composite joints. This will
also take bamboo's applications to a higher level in terms of assembly
and load bearing capacities. We have show two here to give an example of how bamboo can be supported using age old techniques used traditionally for masonry and wood. First one is a column gusset plate that will anchor the bamboo columns to the concrete foundation. This type of connections has been used extensively in the past for modern construction, but now it's purposes are making more of a lasting effect on the construction industry since now they are holding bamboo up. The
advantage of this system is that is uses little metal, supports it quite
well, and serves as a quick assembly trick, that is user friendly. The user friendly part is extremely important to our R & D. We then painted it with a rust repellent primer, and it came out looking quite good. Considering that we made it from a sheet of steel with only hand tools, gives us the confidence we need to evolve some more sophisticated joints. Our aim is to have a catalog of structural metal/composite material joint connectors. They can be gusset plates, joist hanger, cross clips etc. The point is to provide the same structural variances in building and easability that concrete and wood currently have in the worlds housing industries.

The second one down is a a side bracket for outer bamboo columns that will help take the loads but not have any contact with the ground or sill.
It will be anchored to the side of the foundation, and will have a "v" profile that will hold the bamboo, so that water and condensation has a place to
drain down to and collect.

We have several other designs, however they are still in development and need further testing. We are happy with these results, because they
can give the perception of bamboo as a modern building option instead
of a wrongly conceived week building style popular with indigenous
groups around the world. Strong and resilient the buildings of bamboo
villages in the jungles of India, Indonesia, Thailand, China, and South America
have with stood earthquakes, floods, and typhoons far exceeding that of
concrete/brick. Our solution lies in innovating with modern tools to resurrect natures intending housing techniques. A challenge worth exploring here at Wondergrass.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2010 Welcomes Wondergrass With Open Arms

With our guesthouse in working condition we have our designer from the US moving in as the first occupant in our first ever bamboo two story home. The top photo shows the ground floor especially designed to house our designers at work. Creating, discussing, and producing some innovative and breakthrough designs that will take Wonder Grass and bamboo into the new decade. The bottom photo shows the studio that is directly above the ground floor. A cozy and welcoming room. For 2010 Wonder Grass has had the the blessings of new and exciting work opportunities. Because of the hard work of several of our architects, Wonder Grass is heading into the new year, with exciting new projects, and a growing portfolio that gains valuable experience and confidence to be a foundation for years to come.

The long term goal for Wonder Grass is an ambitious one, but most valuable to the people of India, as well other countries of world. Develop, distribute, and lay down a system of centers that provides innovative affordable bamboo housing options for citizens all over the sub-continent of India. A network or franchises that work together as centers across India that can serve their local housing needs, but also come together as a larger infrastructure to accommodate large scale housing projects. Those housing projects can include responses to natural disasters that call for immediate, affordable housing that works, serves the needs of the users, and provides alternative to disaster prone building materials such as that of concrete, and brick. As we have seen in the country of Haiti, the devastation was evident, but the main perpetrator was the inadequate building systems that of concrete/cement brick. In that case, the earthquake did not kill people, but the buildings did.

As a fellow designer I believe it is a moral responsibility to the mass audiences who do not have adequate funds for great housing, to be given an affordable option, that is safe, secure, and allows them an expression of themselves in the built form. A solution that covers many tragedies of today's modern building methods. As we look forward to the coming months and years, we forecast a gradual change in perception of bamboo as a modern building option. Bamboo's biggest obstacle to housing humanity, is not the grass it's self, but in humanities naive understanding of it's incredible capacities. The sun rise at our building center in Nagpur gives us a constant reminder, that no matter was happens, there is always a fresh new beginning that gives new opportunities for change. A nice reminder while building with bamboo's forgiving nature.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Discussion Series starts off with the Joy of Creativity

For our first of many discussion series we had Architect Milind Gujarkar from his office in Nagpur visit our Peth site and share some of his completed projects over the years, as well as share his knowledge of intelligent design. Ar. Gujarkar holds a B.ARCH in visual perception in aesthetics and its application as well as M.ARCH in industrial design. Mr. Gujarkar's projects included a courtyard housing project, restoring 400 year old Teak columns, and several other amazing examples of meaningful design work. We were really fortunate to have Mr. Gujarkar's work as part of our first of many talk series. It sets a high standard for the kind of knowledge and experience that we should have at each of our discussion series.
Our aim is provide and foster an
environment where craftsman's, artist, and professionals can meet, share knowledge, and discuss creativity for today's industrial world. The long term goal of the Wondergrass work site is to harvest a learning center for designers of many backgrounds to come and share their ideas with a larger audience. Not only bamboo technology, but many other sustainable practices that can improve the environment as well as the living standards for the millions of rural Indian citizens and the rest of the world.

We had the pleasure of seeing several of the artisans and craftsman from the village attend our discussion series as well. We were happy to see them and hope they return for upcoming events. We were also fortunate enough to have our guesthouse completed and available for walkthrough's and seeing it close up.
For the days following our workshop, we had several villagers curious about our work, and very impressed with the models that our artisans had made. The day before we held our artisan workshop, and let team wondergrass come together as small teams to construct 1/2" models of bamboo homes. Their work experience was expressed through the well designed models, and we feel that as a way for our creativity discussions to be more interactive we are going to incorporate the use of model making, drawing, etc. to motivate more discussion. Because we have a mixed audience that speaks, English, Hindi, and Maharati, we were battling a communication gap that will be ratified in upcoming events. We had roughly twenty-five people from ages 10 to 65 and we were happy that younger generations will have the chance to learn from the elders, as well as proffessionals who are bringing back traditional practices that have wisdom in their practive then any advance in modern technology in the past 100 years.
As we learn more about the properties of bamboo we
constantly looking towards nature as a source of inspiration and practical knowledge. We have started to work with A.M. Shingarey of Geotech Industries, to test our structural elements such as beam, column, purlin etc. It is a great pleasure and honor to work such a respectable materials testing lab such as GeoTech Industries. They have been testing and completing excellent R&D for the uses of cement, wood, and composite materials that can be used for modern building practices. We will publish those results as soon as they are completed, and we are indebted to work that will follow because of GeoTech Industries. The sharing of knowledge and collaboration that has a higher goal for all parties, including the future occupants of our housing is truly an admirable goal to have. And we cannot but be grateful for the outcome of this collaboration.

We are also sad to report that one our architects for Wondergrass has completed her three month span and has returned to Pune, India to go back to school. Ms. Andhare contributed an amazing background that included projects of museums, housing, and many more sustainable designs. Her bilingual talents will be missed by our US intern who has many more days to improve his linguistic accuracy in speaking the local dialect of Maharati. Her hard work, and knowledge will be missed, but hopefully she will come back to share her new knowledge of ecology.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

High fencing @ Vikram Reddy’s house (Whitefield) in Bangalore

New fixing details were developed on-site to enable the 12’ high bamboo fencing happen without it wobbling and also to make it sturdier. External bamboo column supports along with joineries were developed to hold the 12’ high column strong enough to take the weight of the bamboo panels. The closely spaced 9’ panel served as a structural support to hold the side columns in place and anchor bolts were utilized to screw them to the wall. The 12’ high fencing is taking good shape.

The bamboo panels, column and all the other members have to be given a second coat of cashew nut shell coating.

Pergola and Archway @ T-Zed in Bangalore

“Working and designing with the resources we had on site”- this could be the best way to describe this project. The columns were inserted into the flower pots and PCC was poured into it and was allowed to set. These pots were then sunk into the ground about one foot deep to hold it in place. The PCC was covered with earth and allowed small plants to grow over it- An interesting Garden indeed.

Fencing @ Vikram Reddy’s house (Marathalli) in Bangalore
The artisans reached Bangalore on the 12th of November and visited the site on the 13th to have an idea of the workplace. The truck was unloaded on the 14th and the actual work began on the 16th of November. Despite it being a new place and a different working atmosphere for the artisans, they were able to cope up with the work and quality was never compromised. Once the marking was done, it was realized that customized bamboo panels had to be prepared which consumed the maximum time. There was a challenge of holding the bamboo fencing panels in place and hence new supports were assembled onsite to solve the issues of the panel wobbling, etc.

The new supports made it sturdier and gave an appealing aesthetic view too. The supports and the panels were held by a box joint that happened on the top. A final touch of cashew nut shell coating has to given.

Artisan Team - Yogesh, Surrendra, Gautam, Namdev, Vijay and Eknath.