The residential cluster of homes was conceived to shelter children from challenged backgrounds as managed by the NGO Volontariat based in Pondicherry. Conceived as a fired-in-situ mud structure, the architect had been closely following the rare technology pioneered by ceramist Ray Meeker, which consisted of constructing mud houses and later firing them in-situ to convert them into ceramic structures. The onsite soil in the area was optimum for making fired bricks: in principle a structure built with mud bricks and mud mortar is stuffed with other ceramic products as if it were a kiln and fired for three to four days to achieve the strength of brick.
Typically kiln walls absorb about 40 per cent of the heat generated. In this technology, the house is the kiln, and the ‘heat loss’ is directed towards firing the house and stabilising it against potential water damage. This technology is labour-intensive with extraordinarily little need for ‘purchased’ materials. The money spent thus remains in the local economy. The house becomes a producer instead of a consumer of sustainable building materials.
The housing units were designed as inverted catenary domes that made direct contact with the ground, eliminating the need for walls entirely. Catenary-shaped domes provide maximum structural stability before firing when the structure acts as an earth building during firing, i.e. at an unstable stage of the vitrification process, and after firing as a brick load-bearing structure. Cost being a major constraint, the project uses absorbed urban waste wherever possible rather than buying building materials. Bicyclewheel frames procured from junk markets were used as formwork for windows and later as window grilles. Glass bottles were used as structural units for masonry in toilet areas. Glass chai cups were used to finish the openings at the top of the dome. The project rethinks affordability in the light of sustainability.