Wednesday, June 1, 2011

‘One-stop-Shop’ for bamboo houses; a Wonder Grass initiative

Wonder Grass is in the process of setting up first of its Sales-Hub, where the range of bamboo-based building products like Green-wall panels, Screens, modular Terrace-top structures and other add-on building-components would be on display and for purchase ‘off-the-shelve’.
Along with a set of purely bamboo-based building components, other related accessories, hardware and coating-paints etc will also be available. A team of artisans will be stationed on-site to provide installation and maintenance services, an architect for design-support service etc. In nut shell this place is conceived to provide anyone interested in building with bamboo ‘One-stop-Shop’ experience, to make building with bamboo a joy.

The place is a combination of various ‘front-end’ functions; marketing and design office, a demonstration structure, ‘Stock-and-Sell’ point and small-time building-workshop. Bangalore is a natural choice to start the first of our Sales-Hub outlet, as the people here have given a fillip to idea of using bamboo for building.

We have taken on rent an empty terrace in sector – I, HSR layout, where we are building the whole ‘office-cum-showroom’ using bamboo, demonstrating some of our standard building-systems and using various prefab building components like green-wall panels etc. This will leave no doubt in the mind of our clients and customers, as to how these building components perform and work in the real life-conditions.

This place will provide a very important ‘touch & feel’ aspect of the building product (for a client) to make a final call on using bamboo for his/her building-project.

The office-showroom built with bamboo will help us demonstrate the ability of bamboo for building day-to-day structures with no compromises on performance, its elegance, our ability to deliver a quality finished product, and that too in a short time-frame for erection on site. 

We started work on site around 7th of May. The building is coming along very nicely. The whole new idea of building a system-based bamboo structure is arousing a keen interest from passers-by, people in the vicinity and more importantly within a larger network of Wonder Grass. A lot of our friends have been visiting the set-up, giving ideas and suggestions. The small ideas here and there have helped us make this building that much richer in its form and content.

Meeta, an architect friend, suggested that why not explore and employ a curved / arched roof instead of a standard two-way sloping roof. The curvilinear forms are natural to bamboo, taking some clues from the amazing ‘Green School’ in Bali, we started working on the development of curved roofing system. Achieving a right curvature, required us to develop a new construction method. This helped stretch our imagination, sometimes appearing almost difficult to achieve in a limited time-frame, we had set for our ourselves.

We have finally managed to put together an arched roofing system, owing to untiring efforts by artisans Nikhil Shingare, Yogesh Tembhre and Vaibhav moon. The first arch came up fine, but kept us giving trouble as it was opening up on loading. It needed a tie-member at bottom to hold its curve / shape intact.

The walls are a composite type, it employs combination of different walling systems, using bamboo only. Like some parts are Bamboo-Mat boards, parts are half-split ‘Kavelu Panels’, Woven-mesh panels etc.

The work is progressing well, and we hope to meet our time-line in the midst of monsoon which has come visiting early this time.

Wonder Grass – An Organization in Building

The very process of building of an enterprise which builds houses with bamboo is becoming more and more joyful, although it tests our resolve and the will to continue the journey once in a while.

Last year saw a very enriching and educative engagement with a very experienced  team of professionals (Housing and Finance segment) from Planet Habitat, Ms. Helen Ng, Mr. Rohit Gada and mr. Rajesh Tiwary. The engagement was to explore possible partnerships in taking Wonder Grass to the next stage of growth and scale-up.

They have been very helpful, generous and kind in extending the support and guidance an early stage organization needs. Mr. Rohit Gada who leads ‘Vikas Constructions’ in Mumbai gave us an opportunity to build 25 Workers Housing units, for one of his facility in Bhilad, dist. Vaapi.

With Helen, the relationship has grown from being a purely professional one to being a good friend. She has been very kind in pushing Wonder Grass case through her network here in India, trying to help build the business. Coming from a housing – finance background and with a keen interest in ‘eco-conscious’ building materials, she is working on to build the value chain of eco-friendly building systems to bring them in mainstream of building industry.

We shall continue to get guidance and support from such a brilliant team of professionals in future. They bring in a broad perspective of the industry and experience about how an organizations needs to be built to bring vision into the reality. 
The Year also saw a set of two young, dynamic and creative architects join our hands at Wonder Grass to build onto the design-ideas, building technology’s and construction details using Bamboo.
Ar. Lucas Spiegel, who finished his graduation in Architecture from university of Oregon, was initiated by his friend and Wonder Grass alumni ar. Alex Miller in trying his hands on a bamboo based architecture. Lucas braved the heat and the lack of infrastructure issues at Wonder Grass facility in Nagpur and did come up with some really exciting ideas, works and proposals.

Wonder Grass still in early stages of building-up, falls severely short of resources, bandwidth and will to keep such a dynamic and committed set of professionals engaged and involved to work more on bamboo.

In a span of just 5 months, Lucas did develop some very interesting building systems and ideas. We wish him all the luck for his future works.

Ar. Bela Rao, worked with two architectural firms in Goa and Pune, before trying her hands at Bamboo based architecture with Wonder Grass. It was indeed a tough call for young professional lady to live behind a luxury of urban India to difficulties (social, cultural and professional) in the rural areas.

Lucas and Bela worked together, learning on the job and applying it to build on some interesting designs and building systems.

Key works by ar. Lucas Spiegel
  1. Skecth proposal, building systems and coordination of works on site at Farhenite Resorts, Goa.
  2. Proposal for weekend home near Bangalore.
  3. Proposal for prefabricated kits for living units in French Guiana.
  4. Landscape for a prototype rural housing unit at Peth.

Key works by ar. Bela Rao
  1. Proposal for school building type at Bangalore
  2. Documentation for rural housing building unit
  3. sketch design and development for a 2nd phase of 10 units of ‘Workers housing units’ at AB Rolling, Bhilad.

Duo of Vedant and Utkarsh

These two boys joined our team to work as trainee project-management assistants. Vedant joined the team almost a year back in April’ 2010 and Utkarsh followed in September’ 2011.

There is a long way to go for these two in terms of understanding nitty-gritty’s of the project execution, but both have shown promise. They are hard working and are willing to sweat it out on the site.

Artisan Trainee’s from ITI
We started taking in trainee apprentice from the treads of ‘Carpentry’ and ‘Fitter’ from Industrial Training Institute’s (popularly known as ITI’s), to learn bamboo-construction systems on-job. These boys have shown great promise. The young working men from villages show greater inclination to work in city’ and decline work opportunities in rural area’s, yet we have had a fair number of trainee’s come to work in our set-up at village Peth, Nagpur.

Last year we had 10 trainee from two ITI’s, Wardha and Chandrapur.

The credit to this initiative goes to Sandip. Sandip Gadekar, has been with Wonder Grass for close to 18 months now, taking care of basic administration and coordination works at our Nagpur office.

Sandip initiated a step to interact with ITI’s in Nagpur and surrounding area’s. He introduced to them the work we are doing at Wonder Grass, and invited them to work and learn at Wonder Grass about Bamboo construction. This paid off handsomely, now we routenly get a team of about 8-10 trainee apprentice from various ITI institutions in Vidarbha.

Artisan team
We are facing a daunting challenge in building a good team of artisans who will fabricate and build bamboo houses in large numbers.

Our core team still remains at around 12 artisans, which is also on the decline. The number of artisans, who are floating, is around 15. Last year at one point we had close to 30 artisans. Peth unit had 12 artisans while Khanapur center had 5 and rest were on the project site at Bhilad, Gujrath.

We are utterly at loss to understand why and where are we failing in building a good artisan base, who is highly skilled in bamboo construction and is committed to quality and good finish. 

What we are looking to build is more stable and steady team of master artisans which will be the core, this team will have something like 20 artisans which is future can grow upto 100, who are well versed in the systems, techniques for construction, erection processes on site, quality check etc. this team will primarily build the larger artisan group which will implement large number of bamboo building units.