Project Suitcase- Prototype 03

Building the third suitcase prototype


Prototype 03 was assembled in contractor JMC’s site inside RMZ Ecoworld campus, Bangalore to test the suitcase unit in external weather conditions.Both JMC and RMZ project managers were supportive of our undertaking.

The unit was given public access. We welcomed inputs from the construction workers who were working on the construction and after it.

Even during the assembly stage, there were curious questions from on lookers “Is this our new site office or a house?”, “Is there a window?”, “Can we enter inside?”, “This structure is becoming stronger day by day!!”. Slowly and steadily they saw the unit come up to settle all their doubts. This was a truly inclusive process!

From the previous version, the size of the structure was reworked. A 12 inch high plinth of size 10 feet x 12 feet was laid for the structure to be assembled on. This was done by JMC workers themselves, under RMZ’s instructions. Each panel was 4 feet wide making the core size 8 feet x 8 feet. The corrugated galvalume sheet was replaced by plain sheet which was easier to fix, making the joinery simple and easy to execute. This however makes the structure more open to dents, though strength is not compromised. Provision for storage was made in the rear, to thermally insulate the structure from the western sun. The kitchen and the verandah were 4 feet x 4 feet each. Prototype 03 was assembled in 7 days, but over a period of 3 weeks due to non-availability of fabricators. 

Over the period of construction we received inputs from fabricators, contractors, architects and civil engineers, and non technical people too. Our team was not happy with the finish, the final outcome. We invited a slotted angle fitter who installs shelves for a living to study the structure for bettering the joinery. We realized that the structure could be assembled by a slotted angle fitter with minimal drilling. The plinth tie was critical to hold the entire structure together. We monitored the prototype for a year. During monsoon season we noticed seepage at the plinth level and quickly responded to it by having a 3” cement band internally and externally touching the plinth tie. We noticed that the core needed more ventilation during summer afternoons and the kitchen front panel had to be of a thicker heat absorbing material to accommodate a chullah for cooking.


We invited slum dwellers to visit the structure and documented their responses. They asked for a slightly bigger core area so that a family of four could sleep comfortably. The verandah space was well received. A demarcated space for kitchen and storage racks were appreciated. Construction labourers on the JMC site were excited to see the final outcome. “We never imagined building a house was so easy!”,”Can we build this in our camp?”,”We use this space to relax during our break time and it is comfortable.” were some comments we received. The responses received from the people were over whelming. We were now equipped with the knowledge needed to assemble a suitcase unit and build confidently for a family to live.


Project Suitcase- Building the second prototype

Prototype 2 was assembled in RMZ ECOWORLD, Bangalore site office in the interior of a construction site.
Corrugated sheet was used for wall paneling and roof along with 14 gauge M.S slotted angles and palette rack.
• The structure had to be assembled by a slotted angle fitter.
• The corrugated sheet couldn’t be used as wall paneling because the nut and bolt joineries did not align with the corrugation.
• The door for the unit needed a lighter material and single shutter.
• A horizontal tie was needed to hold the structure together at plinth level.


Project Suitcase- A response to housing needs of the urban homeless

Our observations and surveys helped us in deriving concepts of housing which would address to the needs of the urban homeless. How do we cater to their  ever-shifting, ever-changing dynamic lifestyle? What would be the apt material to build a temporary shelter? Could they move along with it? Could it mould itself according to the users need?

Our quest for an impact full solution led us to market research and prototyping various designs and material options, testing them for structural stability, climate and user response.We now started working on our first prototype.Throughout this process we focused on the fact that the unit had to be  assemble-able by home owner or any unskilled labour, within a short span of time and the materials used for the unit should be economical and easily accessible.




After examining various materials we zeroed in on slotted angle palette racks for walls. These storage units cladded with Galvalume sheet on the exterior doubled up for thermal comfort as well. The basic design gave segregated space for sleeping, kitchen and verandah. The modular design of the assembly catered to expansion and flexible usage of spaces. The sheet thickness and material could be varied as per availability and budget.

Our learning from prototyping and testing stages were immense – we realised corrugated sheets would not work well with slotted angles; the door had to be of a lighter material; a fabricator was not able to handle slotted angles, and so on. This gave us even more room for thought, and gave us the impetus to work on our second version.



New Chulhas

chulha_construction3On a midwinter’s morning Mr. Ramesh Kikkeri (of  Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement, SVYM) along with 4 volunteers visited Thimmaiyanadoddi to train home owners to make their own smokeless chulha. The  chulha was designed by IISc and Mr.Kikkeri has become proficient in building them.

Mr. Kikeri came to the village equipped with the form-work needed to build the chulha. Surrounded by enthusiastic villagers, he started demonstrating step by step methods to build the chulha. Two villagers came forward to volunteer with the building and we made a demo piece near the community center so that the villagers could refer to it anytime.

What did we need to prepare it?


The following were the step-by-step method to build the smokeless chulha:

  1. Prepare the mix and keep aside in the ratio of 5:2.5:1 Mud: Quarry dust: Cement
  2. Keep the framework (mould) in place:
  • Align mould to wall perpendicular edge of wall. Check for placement of pipe beforehand. Use screw to fix frames.
  • Place inner mould with 3 circular cut-outs such that the smallest circular cut out is placed where pipe is to be fixed.
  • Check for alignment using aligning instrument.
  • Apply cow dung mix in the inner surface of the mould
  1. Ram earth inside the fixed frame. Earth has to be thoroughly rammed after every 6’’ layer of mix in the frame. 3-4 bricks can be used to keep the mould from buckling while ramming.
  2. Remove inner frame once the earth is rammed to surface level of lower mould.
  3. Place the upper mould on top of the rammed earth aligning with the external frame and repeat the process of ramming earth inside it.
  4. Check alignment for pipe fixing and fix 5’’ diameter pipe clamped to the wall so that once fired the smoke escapes outside the kitchen either through the wall or the roof.
  5. Place grating perpendicular to the chulha axis in the first and second circular cut out.
  6. De-mould the upper layer framework.
  7. Fixing M.S plate over the rammed earth while checking circular cutout alignment and place the recovery vessel in the upper layer cut out.


This whole process took around 3-4 hours and could be done by 2 adults. The chulha now had to be cured for a minimum of 7 days for firing and regular usage.

After the demonstration the villagers were very excited to build the chulha in their kitchen. Within a few weeks time the house owners built 6-8 chulhas all by themselves. Slowly the entire village was using smokeless chulha and their practice convinced us of the efficiency of this technology.

A Day On Site

Memories of work at the Timmaiyanadoddi site by one of the team members –


The day starts early in Thimmaiyanadoddi. Everyone is up and running errands at the break of dawn. By the time one usually wakes up, in Thimmaiyanadoddi villagers have finished their daily chores and are sitting for their morning tea time discussion near the community center or at the village temple area.

The chief mason from the adjacent village arrives by 7.30 am along with a helper for the day and joins the heated discussion for a couple of minutes.  Once updated about the villager’s life developments since last evening, he charges towards to the house being built.

govinda_masonAfter inspecting his day’s requirements Govinda (the chief mason) announces, “I’ll finish everything today!”  Immense positivity is Govinda’s way of getting work done through the day. He updates us of the likes and dislikes, the beliefs and concerns of the owner of the house being built. The villagers hold Govinda in high regard and consider his words as final. “Govinda Anna, Devara mane beeku, e godeyalli agatta?’’ (Brother, I want a temple on this wall, is it possible?) He looks at us for a nod, but says yes anyway. This is the story of a small niche in the wall. A small space addition we tried in one of the houses. Over time it was acknowledged by the people to make a temple on the eastern wall of their living room. Our inputs were slowly being observed, interpreted to suit personal need and were accepted. This went on for every small detail: the verandah, niches, kitchen gardens, smokeless chulah, etc.

Bearing the harsh sun and wind, workers proceed through the day until noon when everyone disperses for lunch, a small nap and then reassembles within an hour. The house owners help the mason with labour that requires minimum skill, slowly getting trained in the process of building a house. “My son Devaraju can build a wall all by himself now!” a house owners mother remarks. One can sense a level of pride setting in at these moments. There are days where villagers argue over construction work, but it subsides by evening or within a few days.

The adults unwind with a cup of tea in the evening sitting in their verandahs and discussing the day’s events. Who built what? How many bricks were made? Who needs more bricks? And who will make the next Chula? The discussions continue till late evening until women recede to prepare dinner and by 8pm the hamlet is quite again resting until the next dawn.

A Rural Intervention : Village Homes

After the success in the construction of the community centre, the villagers were happy to begin work on their houses. With close interaction with the families, housing options were developed. Keeping in mind the cost restrictions, the designs had to maximise on the available space.

There were two main aims in the design. One was to achieve a higher level of building quality superior to the local construction methods with the same funds. The other was to include the home owners in the process to develop a sense of pride in them. One of the ways in which this was achieved was to involve them in making the mud blocks for their house.

Here are some of the key features of the house design:

It met with the needs of each family: The house design could be adapted to suit the user requirements. In a square of 20’ by 20’, four different house options were developed from a one bedroom to a four bedroom house just by the addition of lofts. The houses designs were also vastu compliant to adhere to culture of the villagers.Timm_kitchen

Houses were environmentally friendly: The kitchen plan was made to accommodate Astra smokeless chulhas. This was important to not only to make kitchens smoke-free, but also more energy efficient. Roofs sloped down towards the road to facilitate rain water harvesting and stabilised adobe blocks were used for construction.

They were made to be cost-effective: The cowshed and the bathroom would be constructed from existing bricks and roofs after being tested to ensure strength and durability. Loft, doors and windows would be made from recycled crate wood and the roof sheet from galvalume, which is also recyclable. The adobe blocks do not need to be plastered or painted, which also reduces the cost.

Initially, it seemed like some of the structures may not need to be rebuilt completely and would be improved just with some alterations and additions. But on further inspection of the existing structure with the help of a structural engineer, it was evident that the houses would not support any additions and hence, reusing the materials for new construction would prove to be a better idea. Residents seemed eager to have new and better homes and that was a good start to intervention.



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