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Volontariat Homes for Homeless Children

Volontariat Homes for Homeless Children 


Pondicherry, India
2008 – 2010


These homes are planned to accommodate 15 children and 5 foster parents. This project was built using a rare technology pioneered by Ray Meeker of Golden Bridge Pottery, which consists of baking a mud house insitu, after constructing it. A fired house or a fire-established mud house is in principle a mud house built with mud bricks and mud mortar that is cooked after building as a whole to achieve the strength of brick. The interior space of the structure is stuffed with further mud bricks or other ceramic products such as tiles, and fired as if it were a kiln. Typically kiln walls absorb about 40% of the heat generated. In this technology, the house is the kiln, and the ‘heat loss’ is directed towards firing the house and stabilizing it from water damage. The fuel cost is largely accountable to the products inside. The strength of brick in principle would be achieved for the piece of mud. Further, the cement in the mortar mix would become unnecessary.



This technology involves almost only labour, with very little spent of ‘purchased’ materials. Thus the money spent remains in the local economy and it enriches it. The house becomes a producer of sustainable building materials instead of being a consumer. The house takes 3 – 4 days to burn.



Catenary shaped domes are used to get the best structural stability before firing when it functions as an earth building; during firing which is an unstable stage of vitrification process and after firing as a brick load bearing structure. The domes are various sizes according to the cluster program which includes one foster parent per 4 children.



A social project with cost as a major aspect that informed design, the project uses many unconventional materials as well as absorbs urban waste. Bicycles wheel frames were used as formwork for windows and later as window grills. 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.
This highly experimental project is an example of radical thinking that is being explored to approach the problem of affordability of housing for all, and more over integrally sustainable in all its aspects.

Photos by : Alka Hingoraani and Javier Callejas