Surfaces Reporter Rising Star: Vinu Daniel, Wallmakers, Kerala

Surfaces Reporter Rising Star: Vinu Daniel, Wallmakers, Kerala

Surfaces Reporter is always on the quest of identifying emerging architects and designers whose work sets them apart from the rest. Through a special section called SR Rising Stars we love to interact with the budding talents who are creating waves with their innovative thinking and projects. In this interview, Architect Vinu Daniel, whose firm has an interesting name, 'Wallmakers' shares with us a bit about his struggles, success and more.

Vinu Daniel completed his B Arch in 2005 from The College of Engineering, Trivandrum, following which he worked with Auroville Earth Institute for the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Post-Tsunami construction. 
On returning from Pondicherry in 2007, he started ‘Wallmakers’ which was christened thus by others, as the first project was just a compound wall. By 2008, he had received an award for a low cost, eco-friendly house from the ‘Save Periyar’ Pollution Control Committee. The house was constructed for a cancer patient. Many such eye-openers in the course of his practice prompted him to resolve to devote his energies towards the cause of sustainable and cost-effective architecture.

Your firm has a very interesting name. What is the story behind?

Our first project was a compound wall. Hence, people started calling us, ‘Wallmakers.’ 

What inspired you to build a career in architecture?

I was born and raised in the Middle East. I always aspired to become a musician. However, my parents wanted me to pursue a conventional profession, so, after passing out of school in Abu Dhabi, I moved back home to Kerala to study architecture at the College of Engineering, Trivandrum. I got into architecture thinking that it was a creative space, where I could express myself. I had no idea what was in store for me. Within a year or two, I was angered by the pedagogical framework within which conventional architecture was taught. Adjusting to it was difficult, and I felt that architecture had become all about satisfying one’s ego. However, a chance meeting with legendary architect Laurie Baker in my fourth year played a critical role in making me fall in love with architecture.

Baker explained how buildings could completely co-exist with nature and avoid waste. He also told me something very profound about a chance meeting he had with Mahatma Gandhi. One of the things he (Gandhi) said has influenced my thinking; that the ideal house in the ideal village will be built using material that is found within a five-mile radius of the home. But in today’s aspect, all around us is waste, so we build with it. Waste can be classified as anything that was produced, used and then discarded from its original function.

While the work and construction process results in the production of a lot of scraps, Wallmakers believe in not being deterred by this demon and instead of building with it.

Please share the experience of your first project.

After my graduation in 2005, I worked with Auroville Earth Institute for the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Post-Tsunami construction. On returning from Pondicherry in 2007, I started Wallmakers. Our first project was a compound wall built using mud bricks and beer bottles, which were lying waste. By 2008, we received an award for a low cost, eco-friendly house from the ‘Save Periyar’ Pollution Control Committee. The house was constructed for a cancer patient. Thus far, Wallmakers has mostly constructed residential structures, while also working on different religious edifices, commercial buildings, public spaces and pavilions. Rahul Mehrotra, in his book – “Architecture in India since 1991,” opened new frontiers for us.

Emerging Architecture

Being a young design firm, has it been a challenging journey? What has kept you going?

Of course, it has been hard. I have designed and presented so many buildings in this period, with most of them not getting executed. But I also have stuck to my rule of not compromising and agreeing to do any half-baked project.

Tell us about the use of materials in your projects. What defines the choice? Any specific project you want to discuss.

For me, necessity and innovation are significant facets of my projects. In one of my projects, the location where my client wanted to construct a house was once a dump yard. So instead of shifting the waste to some other person’s property, I decided to build with it. That was when we first came up with the patented Debris Wall and Shuttered Debris Wall (SHOBRI). While all other walls of the house are built of rammed earth with mud sourced from the site itself added with barely 7 - 9% cement; this debris wall is built around a frame of 6 mm steel rods and plastered 22 gauge wire mesh which supports the layers of debris poured in with intermittent watering, finished with a final layer of plaster. This wall made of 80% building material remains, 15% gravel, 5% cement and 5% manufactured sand is not just resource and cost-efficient, but also surprisingly strong and of extremely pliable form. This has been patented by us and hopes to be a major wall construction method in the 21st century.

How do you plan to expand your work?

As Wallmakers, we aim at building sustainable structures that are responsive to specific conditions in the site’s context, thus maintaining a balance between innovative designs and functional deliverables. Since the very beginning, we have been using recyclable waste. In one of Wallmakers’ latest project, we are using pet bottles to build an entire house alongside material like mud and scrap wood. It’s a composite creation. These pet bottles filled with mud serve a structural purpose as they act as compressors and thus are used as bricks to construct houses. 

Your message to the younger generation.

Going green is no longer an option; it’s a compulsion for 21st-century humans. We cannot ‘consider’ the ‘option’ of eco-friendly construction while building structures. 
For our generation, it is a necessity. We aren’t left with any other option. 

A Unique Creation by Wallmakers-The Chirath Residence

SR Rising Stars

Creating a New Outlook-The Chirath Residence

In today’s world, it is a prevalent trend to add the prefix of sustainability to most things. However, there seems to be very little that is done to represent the concept. Wallmakers, as a community, have devoted themselves to the cause of using mud and waste as the chief components to make structures that are alluring and utilitarian. As a firm practicing sustainable architecture exclusively for a decade, they know about the aspirations of a “modern” client, where his house is a symbol of his status and prominence in society instead of being a statement for the future. 
In the case of Chirath Residence, when the architect first met the client, he mentioned his disapproval towards the traditional Kerala style home system. The traditional houses in Kerala are typically sloped roof structures with heavy overhangs. Although the roof prevented rain and the cooling was phenomenal, he was deterred by the atmosphere of darkness which stayed prevalent or was associated with the ambience inside the house. The second altercation was that many of the architectural systems that were in place promoted gender inequality in the olden days since women were restricted to the courtyard. Thus during the early days of the project, the client had made a point that the house should be a symbol of a new light or a new outlook to our age-old systems and beliefs.

“Chirath” which denotes a traditional lamp in Malayalam is the name given by Mr Ramanujan Basha for his house at Pala, Kerala. The client thus asked for a solution by throwing away the bad and utilising the good. Wallmakers decided to break the roof, split it open and let the light flow in, while using waste and mud to build the house. This is the concept of Chirath. 


Materials Used:

1. Shuttered Debri Wall: This is a patented technique. This wall construction technique involves mixing cement, soil and waste materials of various sizes (coarse aggregate) ranging from 10 mm -70 mm skillfully to give a strong wall (5.2 mpa compressive strength).

2. Ferrocement Shell Roof: These wafer-like structures are steel reinforced arched shells with effective thickness of 1.5 cm and they take equal load of respective R.C.C slabs. They effectively reduce the overall cement consumption by 40% and steel consumption by 30%. These replace the R.C.C Slab in roofing as they are as strong as 1200 kg/m2.

3. Terracotta Tile Jali: Locally available tiles are used in a composite manner with MS rods running through them and forming successive sets placed one below the other with gaps in between for ventilation.

4. Waste Wood: Cut wooden scrap pieces have been joined to make furniture like beds, kitchen cabinets, chairs, etc.

5. Scrap for Window Grills: Waste steel rods and MS plates are put to use beautifully as window grills, and ventilators.

6. Ferrocement Walls and Slabs: Thin Partition walls in toilets, kitchen slab, and seating in the living area are made of ferrocement.

7. Oxide: Floor and selected walls have been finished with grey and white oxides.

Special Features:

  • The pond in the living area aids in evapotranspiration and helps in passive cooling.
  • Rainwater Harvesting Tank as an extension to the pond serves as a collection pit for the flow of stormwater from the sloping roofs. With a capacity of 35 m3, this stored water is recycled for all domestic purposes.
  • Innovative ferrocement shell roof leaving pockets of light which enter the building and change the mood every hour.
  • Reinventing the use of terracotta tiles as jali on the exterior walls.
  • A landscape that comprises of only indigenous plants and grass that is present in that area.
  • Well amalgamated interiors and exteriors, which allow peaceful transition into spaces.  

Amidst all other pitched roof buildings in the locality, this pitched roof residence stands out due to its unique choice of materials and form. The rammed earth pathway, flanked by mud-rendered retaining walls ushers one into the house through the wild landscape.

Project Name: Chirath Residence
Project Location: Pala, Kerala
Completion Year: 2018
Lead Architect:  Ar Vinu Daniel
Team Members: Pushkar Sharma, Tushar Sharma, Pinak Bhapkar, Srivarshini J M, Sriviji Nachimuthu, Neeraj Murali, Shyamala Baskaran, Sagar Kudtarkar
Photo Credits: Anand Jaju, Jino and Midhu

An Exceptional Combo of Serenity & Wilderness-IHA Residence

The clients, Mrs Tara Pillai and Mr Sreekumar, based in Delhi, wanted an eco-friendly abode that also retains the peace and quiet in the busy city of Trivandrum. The residence depicts an atmosphere that is an oxymoron in nature - serene and warm, with minimalistic decors, that at the same time is adventurous and wild in design. The site was on a low-lying terrain with issues of water-logging, which was the primary obstacle that the architect had to tackle. The primary idea was to ensure that the building wasn’t creating a hindrance in the flow of water. Being in a state like Kerala, where rains are frequent, the team had to ensure that the water percolates into the ground and that it could be harvested. They had to come up with an alternative and sustainable solution which could also enhance the spatial quality-a pond in the lowest point of the site so that water is retained in the site as well as, adding to the veristic vibe of the residence.

Using bamboo for the façade had a downside to it – which is that it is precarious and cannot support an entire edifice of enormous size. This is the barrier that was demolished and proved wrong by dint of this project.

The bamboo façade is created and conserved in a stable position by reinforcing the bamboo with steel rods. The continuous string of bamboos gives the front elevation to the residence, supporting the staircase that hangs from it, and also creating a semi-open place for one’s quiet thoughts. 

The distinctive form of CSEB bricks (Compressed Stabilized Earth Blocks) has been used to create a rotating Jali work to impart privacy to the bedrooms. Apart from the marvel, the light creates; the consecutive polar arrangement allows an uninterrupted flow of air allowing ample ventilation. The use of the base plate of washing machines as scrap grills is an imperative part of the residence. 

Use of such grills instead of fresh ones propagates the idea of up-cycling as well as serves as a medium of income for labourers who part their sweat to create exquisite pieces of art.

The architectural team has tried to bring small changes in the usual routine of wastage by inculcating something we regularly see in junkyards. 

The use of washing machine motor base plates, welded together not only encourages sustainable living and reuse but also adds to the beauty of the residence. Utilising scrap material and turning it into something spectacular is made possible. What sets the home apart from usual residences is the simplistic and minimalist interiors of the residence. The architects make use of uprooted trees and waste wood from saw mills as the furniture for the residence. The structure connects closely to nature in terms of terrain, design and materials alike. The residence hugs and stays close to the environment of peace around it and the outgoing and cordial vibe within the four walls of the residence.

Project Name: IHA Residence
Project Location: Trivandrum, Kerala
Completion Year: 2018
Lead Architect: Ar Vinu Daniel
Team Members: Srivarshini J.M., OshinVarughese, Shreyas Unni, Pushkar Sharma, Udit Mittal, Gayathri Maithani, Saatvika Pancholi, Shekizzar, Shyamala Baskaran, U S Ananditha, Tushar Sharma, Vineeth A C, Aparna Renu, Dhawal Dasari, Jemy Joy, Sankar Nath, Apoorva Goutham, Sagar Kudtarkar
Photo Credits: Anand Jaju

About Wallmakers

All our earlier settlements have always been made of natural materials. But the sad fact is that today less than thirty percent of the world’s population live in buildings made of earth, even though it is a more sustainable and durable material; the blame of which may be solely placed on the advent of industrialisation and widespread demand for "cement” houses'. Architects at Wallmakers have devoted ourselves to the cause of using mud and waste as the chief components, to make structures that are both, utilitarian and alluring.


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