With more people coming to work at SacredGroves, our community felt the need for a place to house its volunteers on site. A few months ago, such a place was realized in the form of a two-storey pointy-roofed wooden structure sitting cozily in the forest edge, partly hidden by the foliage around it.
Palm wood and bamboo are abundantly available in Auroville, and they are ideal materials for temporary durable structures. This dormitory was built almost entirely by carpenters as woodwork requires skill and experience to apply in construction. Volunteers were involved in some of the lighter and more fun work.
The Footings and the Floor
Wood needs protection from two main elements:
1. Moisture – By raising the structure off the ground.
2. Termites – By using plastic sheet and cashew oil to protect the footings.
Palm tree trunks were used as whole pieces to function as columns. They were inserted into 3’ deep holes after being wrapped in plastic and painted with cashew oil. The columns are 11’ long, stopping below the ceiling of the ground floor. The plinth is raised 2’ above the ground to keep away moisture, termites and insects. The structure of the plinth has a primary beam frame connecting all the columns and secondary beams resting on the primary frame. The secondary beams support 1” palm wood planks which form the floor. All beams are made of palm wood trunks cut along the length to form smaller sections.
Walls that Breathe
The walls of the ground floor are made of palm stems, which are slightly curved and extremely tough. The stems have been nailed in a diagonal parallel arrangement on a bamboo and palm wood frame, creating a jaali wall with a difference.
The wall functions well with regard to thermal comfort:
- It filters direct sunlight in the morning.
- It allows breeze indoors, cooling hot afternoons.
The stems have been nailed with the prickly side facing outside, creating a soft wall indoors.
The Other Walls – A Wattle and Daub Trial
The walls separating the three rooms below were constructed by wattle and daub method. Palm stems were nailed horizontally onto bamboo mullions forming a framework onto which a mix of earth, coir and EM was plastered. The mix was made outdoors three days prior to being used. After three layers of mud plaster, a layer of cowdung and earth mix were applied for protection against moisture.
The slab above the ground floor has a structure similar to the plinth – a primary beam network that supports secondary beams, above which plywood planks are nailed. In between the beams are plywood planks running across the floor planks, allowing the load to be distributed uniformly across the planks.
In contrast to the thick palm wood sections of the entire structure, the roof is a thin corrugated GI sheet, resting on a framework of rafters and purlins. The rafters are made of palm wood of thinner sections compared to the beams below. The rafters support purlins made of slender wooden sections. Rectangular J-bolts tie the GI sheet to the purlins. A ridge piece, also made of GI, runs along the length of the roof.
The roof is built at a steep angle of 55 degrees, allowing it to doubly function as the wall as well as the roof of the upper floor. However, it has a bigger role to play with regard to thermal comfort. A gap between the floor slab and the GI roof sheet, along with the steep angle of the roof, allows hot air from the rooms below to rise up to the upper storey. This is open on both ends, with no walls or doors, allowing the continuous air flow to take the hot air out.
The GI sheet overhangs on either side, protecting the walls below from driving rain.
The front façade of the dormitory is dominated by a wooden staircase that runs straight up to the upper floor. It consists of two stringers on either side with treads in between, all made of palm wood. The base of the staircase stringers rest on a large piece of concrete rubble to keep away termites and moisture. The railings are made bamboo coated with wood varnish and preservative.
Having lived here for a few months now, the volunteers and interns at SacredGroves find it to be the perfect home. It combines adventure and comfort, and appears quite the cozy shelter, sitting amid trees – a sacred home indeed!