Friday, April 30, 2010

Wonder Grass Receives Some Special Recognition

Wonder Grass (Low-cost housing) soaring temperatures and streams running dry in Nagpur do not deter Vaibhav and Nachiket Kaley from expecting their business to yield a rich harvest. The Kaley brothers are betting on a master plan, where bamboo becomes the cure for all ills in India’s housing sector.

Two years ago, Vaibhav, 33, an interior designer, along with his brother Nachiket, 28, an IT professional, decided to follow in the footsteps of their father, Vinoo Kaley, known as the ‘bamboo man’ and set up Wonder Grass, to provide low-cost housing options using bamboo as the main construction material. The walls of the houses are sometimes plastered with cow dung and mud to give a cemented look. The structures, the brothers claim, can withstand mild earthquakes and cyclones and are good options for coastal areas. “The time has come for bamboo. The market is opening up for sustainable living solutions,” says Vaibhav, director, Wonder Grass.

So far, they have done well. Turnover has trebled, while profits have increased manyfold too. The company has revenue targets of Rs 20-25 crore in a 8-10 year timeframe. They already have a bamboo auditorium project for an educational institution at the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa border and a housing project in Vapi.

With a marketing office in Bangalore and assembly line operations in Nagpur and Belgaum, the firm is looking at scaling up operations and will soon have 100 artisans working for them. To retain manpower, the Kaleys set aside 20 per cent of equity in a trust that will share profits with the workforce.

A low cost of Rs 400-450 per sq. ft, as against Rs 650 per sq. ft for a low-cost brick-mortar dwelling can be a driving factor for the bamboo houses.

Prasad Sangameshwaran

This article can be seen on the following link on the "Business World" website:

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Prototype Housing Begins!

We have just finished our foundation for the first Wonder Grass bamboo house that is a model for the rural Indian citizen. We will construct phase 1 and complete it by the end of May, ready for the monsoon season to hit us. The plan is a simple one, but we have put a lot of careful considerations into it, that makes it rather complex coming from a designers point view. We have a main room roughly 12ft x 15ft that will serve as the main living/sleeping area for a small family or couple living in a rural setting. Off of that we have a 12ft x 6ft veranda that serves as the entry. Traditional Indian homes ranging in the central region, have hip roof slanting down towards the entry to shield against monsoon season as well as create a vertical threshold that visually heightens the view while walking in the house. Designing a house that will hopefully reach thousands if not millions in some years, the needs and priorities of such a project needs to start with what a rural Indian see's as a basic home for themselves. Several factors determine what needs a rural house should address, however the most important is durability. For the last 80+ years the Indian rural home has been constructed out of brick, mortar, and cement. This has led to a changing attitude towards housing. We have organized surveys to understand this perception, and we understand that introducing a bamboo structure into a cement lifestyle will not work unless there keys issues addressed. Durability, there must be a instinctual feeling from just looking at the house, that it will last for a full generation. Secondly, there must be a sense that there is low maintenance. Brick and mortar homes or cement boxes need little maintenance unless there is dirt on the floors, or an earthquake occurs. Otherwise, people have adjusted to living in essentially, large prison blocks. And thirdly,it needs to be cheap. This can sometimes be hard when building with bamboo, but we at Wonder Grass have been able to save money be implementing ms joints, improving structural members as well as adjusting size requirements per stage in the expansion of the house. The brick and cement plinth rises from level ground about 18in above grade and we insert the bamboo columns directly into the plinth. They are surrounded by cement, and will never be removed. We erected our first wall on the north wall, and it was in two parts, because our plan is to have prefabricated parts made at our building centers, and then transported to the work site to be erected. This saves time and decreases labor costs. Our wall system will comprise of some less then mainstream methods thought up by our design team. The system is designed to accommodate future structural expansion. The will make the house grow out and up. Growing out is easier then going up, especially with bamboo. Our system has been explained many times in past posts, but it never hurts to describe the expansion. Those "V" members you see on the end beams will have pieces that can be replaced with other longer members that can support columns for the first floor on the exterior load bearing walls. This is a trial or prototype house so we will learn as go, and hopefully create as many solutions to the problems faced. We have done similar construction techniques likes these before on our projects in Wardha housing cluster project, as well as several other projects spear headed by Vinoo Kaley in the 90's. The right moves take by our design team are using joint systems that have never been used to ou knowledge in the world for bamboo. We have tested them, and are currently underway mass producing them to compliment our project.
We also have underway a project that is really taking off with some great results. We have recently taken on a project of building a 80ft long bamboo inverted arch.
This arch will reach a span of 80ft. will be made in two parts. Each part being approximelty 40ft in length. We have started to push our projects out of small scale structures into some really large extreme assemblies of bamboo that can be seen with some selective works around the world. Wonder Grass really wants to see the limits of our artisans and bamboo compliment each other to make India a great showcase for bamboo building. More to come, check back when we have the rest of the walls up and the arch complete!