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Siblings abandon modern construction methods to build hand-sculpted mud house in mountains: 'If birds and ants can make their homes, why can't we?'

"Our climate anxiety peaked."

"Our climate anxiety peaked."

Photo Credit: Tiny Farm Lab

A pair of siblings who abandoned modern construction methods have brought their mudhouse vision to fruition with the help of Indigenous wisdom and the global community. 

As detailed by Architectural Digest, Ansh and Raghav Kumar combined their artistic and architectural talents to design a 600-square-foot mountain home for a site near Rishikesh, India.

The Tiny Farm Fort project was a success thanks to the guidance of local villagers, whom Ansh and Raghav said they leaned on to navigate the remote environment with stunning views of the Ganges river. 

"When we moved to Rishikesh, we spent a lot of time with the local villagers, immersing ourselves in their way of life, especially with the eldest grandmother," Ansh, an artist, told Architectural Digest. "On other days, we would sit and observe the sun, wind and stars to plan the architecture of the house, including the placement of the entrance, sleeping and bathing area and a tiny fireplace. It was based on intuition." 

In most modern construction, cement (the main ingredient in concrete) is the favored building material. According to multiple reports, concrete is the most consumed material worldwide after water. Unfortunately, this contributes to an out-of-balance planet.

The energy-intensive process of creating cement is widely reported to account for around 8% of all carbon pollution. To put that into perspective, Arizona State University professor Narayanan Neithalath explained to ASU News that if the cement sector were a country, it would be the third-largest carbon polluter after China and the United States. 

The transportation of materials is another factor adding to health-harming pollution from the construction industry. However, as Ansh and Raghav shared with Architectural Digest, the mud used to build the Tiny Farm Fort came less than 500 feet from the site. 

The crew consisted of more than 90 travelers from 18 countries, hired through a work platform connecting people with homestay experiences in exchange for several hours of labor. 

The inside of Tiny Farm Fort is a "haven of biomaterials," according to the siblings' interview with the publication, repurposing items like discarded slate for a table and locally sourced wood for a chandelier. What's more, instead of relying on heavy, dirty fuel-guzzling construction equipment, builders used traditional techniques. 

"Contrary to assumptions, mud is a very safe material to build a house with," Raghav, an architect, told the Architectural Digest. "We engaged in daily stomping and dancing rituals, mixing the mud with straw and water to give it strength, all while playing music from all over the world."

In addition to being easily sculpted, mud and other natural build mixtures are affordable, weatherizing (resulting in lower electric bills), and often climate-resilient. 

For example, Colorado Earth's earthen bricks get even stronger when exposed to fire while also reducing the need for heating and cooling. In California, a man who wanted to feel closer to nature constructed his cob home for only $200 and is now living debt-free.  

As for the Kumars, the COVID-19 pandemic was the spark that ignited their journey in 2020. 

"We began to question our state of living and being. Our climate anxiety peaked," Ansh revealed to Architectural Digest. "And if birds and ants can make their homes, why can't we?"

The Tiny Farm Fort was completed in 547 days and is now listed as a bed and breakfast. According to the report, Ansh and Raghav are still connected with the villagers, teaching them about ecotourism practices

They are also working to promote the benefits of mud houses, which Raghav said had become less popular in India due to the government's marketing of them as temporary housing.

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