Understanding Earth Blocks

Stabilised adobe blocks (SAB) are used as the primary building material for the Timmaiyanadoddi constructions. The old homes are built with mud, but lack in durability and stability. They have good dry strength, but in wet weather they are prone to termite- related problems and hence their strength is compromised.

Stabilised mud blocks have the addition of a little cement into the mud mixture. These blocks require some time for curing and sun drying, but do not need to be burnt. The blocks are easy make as they do not require any skilled labour and they are also easy to construct with.[i]

In Timmaiyanadoddi, blocks were made at site by local workers and masons using mud from the area. These bricks were used in the community centre as well as in all the homes.

Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks (CSEB) are more widely used for earth block construction. These blocks are compressed using a maching. But, in Timmaiyanadoddi, blocks were hand-pressed using a process called pugging and not with the use of a compression machine. This made it even more cost effective and for future construction the local labourers would not be dependent on a machine. For the community centre, a team of 5-6 labourers made the blocks, but for the house construction, a team of 3 worked more efficiently.

Some of the advantages of these blocks:

  1. Local Material: Ideally, the production is made on the site itself or in the nearby area. Thus, it will save the transportation, fuel, time and money.
  2. It is Biodegradable: Despite its high resilience to various climatic conditions, Adobe building rubble will decompose in a few years by the bio-chemicals in soil.
  3. Energy Efficiency and Eco-friendliness: Pollution emission and energy consumption is considerably less than fired bricks.
  4. Cost Efficiency: Produced locally, with a natural resource and semi-skilled labour, almost without transport, it will definitely be cost effective.
  5. A Transferable Technology: Simple villagers can easily be trained in a short time since it is a simple technology and requires a few skills.
  6. Reducing Imports: Since they are produced locally by semi-skilled people, there is no need for import of expensive materials or transport from far places.
  7. Flexible Production: Using machinery to compress the blocks, variety of production scales are possible.
  8. Social Acceptance: Adobe blocks can be used for a variety of buildings differing in functions and scales. [ii]

There are some limitations of the material as it cannot be used for high spans and taller buildings. But with more awareness about the correct production techniques, there is great scope for the use of adobe in construction.

  [i] Understanding Stabilised Mud Blocks – Dr.Yogananda (The Hindu, January 2015)

 [ii] Auroville Earth Institute – CSEB


A Rural Intervention : Community Centre

The approach to intervention is based on Swami Vivekananda’s 3H approach – Heart to feel. Head to think. Hands to work. This translated into an Observe, Interpret and Intervene method.

On observation, the homes in Timmaiyanadoddi were far from adequate. Most of them were in a dilapidated condition with dark and dingy living spaces. Kitchens are not ventilated and homes were filled with cooking smoke from the firewood, floors are undulated and the roofs are made with harmful asbestos sheets. Aside from the obvious solutions to the home infrastructure needs, the village also lacked a community space. The villagers needed a space to come together for festivals and meetings. Building the Community Centre was the entry point to the village. The subsequent focus was on building up the community infrastructure which would benefit the community as a whole.

The CommunitThimm_communitycentre2y Centre was designed to have three segregated rooms despite the small area of the building. The multipurpose space would accommodate community activities, meetings, village functions, etc. and other future needs too.

The structure was built out of stabilized mud blocks. The villagers were a little sceptical at first at using a new material. They were unsure of the material’s strength and performance, but once construction progressed, they embraced it and were keen to use it in the construction of their own homes.


By building the Community Centre first, the difficulties in operating in a remote village scenario would be brought out. Involving the villagers in construction would be a necessary process for long term, meaningful development of the village and people. The village lacked a leader and hence didn’t have a person who would bring the people together. Instilling a sense of community feeling is a time consuming task, but a necessary aspect for long term village development.


A Rural Interevention : Life in the Village

The residents of Thimmaiyanadoddi in some ways live the life of a typical village community and in other ways, they are unique.

The main occupation of the village is basket weaving. They use bamboo from the nearby forests to make the baskets and then sell them in other villages for Rs.40-50. The village folk are also farmers who grow ragi which is used mainly for their own consumption. Some of the families cultivate magali beru, a medicinal root as an additional source of income

Men and women marry young and families are nuclear and live in their own homes. They maintain a well-balanced home and family life.  Children attend primary school, but most don’t continue beyond the age of ten. The women in the family tend to the fields, manage their homes and look after cattle. The villagers celebrate a few festivals, some of which they celebrate together with neighbouring villages.

Despite a sense of simplistic contentment in the village, there are some shortcomings. The family eat two meals a day, but their diet seems to lack sufficient nutrients. This is probably due to an inadequate intake of vegetables and dairy products. The children are unkempt and people are unaware of basic cleanliness habits. No one in the village has completed any secondary education and none of the women are employed elsewhere.

In order to address some of the issues, the team chose a social worker to bring out some community and lifestyle awareness among the people. Someone who would teach the people, advise them on lifestyle improvements in the context of nutrition, hygiene, education and vocational skills would be a critical asset to the project.

Such a person was chosen and over the course of the year, she would form a close bond with the people, understanding their ways of life and slowly helping them to strive towards positive change.