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.



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

Living Off the Earth

One of the most appreciative traits of rural communities is that they live off the earth; the use of natural resources, the methods of building using materials that are found around them and the need to effectively use for their food, clothes and equipment, what is naturally available to them.

The needs for a house to live in are numerable today. But primitive housing served to provide basic needs- security from intruders and animals, sleeping and living spaces and protection from the environment. Because of primitive man’s primary concern for shelter, the architecture was determined by the climate.[i]

An apt example of this is the construction of the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. A Pueblo is a Spanish term to describe the communities of South America. It was a unit of a settlement that was is a nucleated rural village. The demands of agrarian routine and the need for defence, the simple desire for human society in the vast solitude of, dictated that it should be surrounded by fields and separated by considerable distance from neighbours.[ii] The architecture used in the pueblo shows the influence of the climate and available resources.


The hot and dry climate of the desert scape required housing that was compact with minimum openings that were made of materials that would cool down the interiors. The Pueblo is made entirely out of adobe- a mixture of mud, water and straw made into bricks and sun dried. Thick walls are constructed and wood from mountain forests are hauled to the site to make door and window frames. Houses were built side by side with common walls. In earlier days, the houses were only accessed by a ladder through the roof for the sake of security.[iii]

In most cases, the architecture of a rural community is evident of the type of climate in the area and the available materials. Culture, family typology and anthropometrics were also factors that influenced rural architecture.

[i] House, Form and Culture – Amos Rappaport  [ii] Richard A. Fletcher  [iii] Taos Pueblo information