Uravu in Wayanad, Kerala, is an organization that focuses on promoting unique lifestyle and infrastructure development based on bamboo. They promote environment friendly houses made in bamboo, bamboo artefacts, indigenous tourism. They conduct training programmes as well. The house owned by Baburaj, the president of the organization, is a splendid architectural specimen that promises unique sights and experiences for the guests and visitors. This three storey sturdy mansion, built using bamboos, stands in the middle of a pond. Baburaj is thrilled to show around his beautiful house and share his experiences of living in the most eco-friendly abode in the region.
“I am a native of Wayanad. I have been associating with Uravu that promotes a sustainable and environment-friendly lifestyle, for years. My family had lived in rented houses for more than ten years. I wasn’t happy staying in those concrete houses that looked like tiny match boxes. It was during that time I read a book called ‘Grow Your Home’ written by noted Colombian architect Simon Valez. He is a veteran architect who built not just houses but huge buildings using bamboo. That book sowed the dreams of building an eco-friendly house of my own, in my mind. I began nurturing the dream of building a bamboo house that doesn’t hurt the earth and the environment,” says Baburaj.
A few years after reading that book, Baburaj purchased 15 cents of land in Thrikaipatta in Wayanad. However, he soon realized that the plot was actually a farm land. Baburaj felt that he would be violating his ideals, if he built a house on that plot. Though he could have legally converted that farmland into a regular plot, Baburaj decided to retain the plot as it is. He began thinking about a way to build the house without actually changing the natural geography or layout of the plot. Soon the idea of building houses on stilts came into his mind. The plot that was reclaimed was again converted into a pond. Pillars were then fixed in the pond and the bamboo house was built on them. Baburaj is elated that he didn’t destroy a natural farm land and could actually give life to a lost water body.
Architects and building experts say that the unique triangular shape has helped the ancient pyramids of Egypt stand the test of time. Interestingly, slopes of the roof extend downwards and get transformed into walls. Baburaj says he had followed this method while preparing the plan for his house.
“Every member in the family would have their own wishes and imaginations about the house. The house was designed by blending my dream of a small bamboo house with my family’s wish for a modern abode. The plan was drawn by Aneesh, a close friend who is also the engineer at Uravu. Aneesh had recently attended a national workshop which focused on building homes using bamboo. The ideas that he got from that workshop gave him the confidence to come up with a brilliant design. I was involved at every stage of the construction, supporting them and sharing my ideas. A unique technology called Bamboo Reinforcement Technology in which treated bamboo is used to build the structure was used here. Compared to regular concrete houses, 25% less iron rods have been used in this house. The rest of the house is built using sturdy bamboo rods. Studies have shown that treated bamboo can even survive strong earthquakes,” explains Baburaj.
Baburaj was smart enough to grow bamboos in his half acre land in Wayanad as soon as the idea of a bamboo house struck him. 90% of the bamboo that was required for the construction was obtained from his own land. Interestingly, a fully grown bamboo could be harvested in 4 years. The pond took up around 8 cents in his 15 cents land. Baburaj built the house on stilts over the pond and grows a mini wood with countless trees and plants in the remaining 7 cents.
The three-storey house, designed in 3000 sq ft, has living and dining areas, kitchen, five bedrooms and a balcony. The beautiful view of the pond could be enjoyed from all the floors. During summer, the water in the pond cools the air which then rises up and fills the interiors, making it extremely comfortable. So, there is no need to switch on the fan or air conditioner even in the summers.
The interiors are minimally furnished. The terracotta mud tiles paved on the floor renders a rustic charm. Baburaj wanted his house to offer an incredible opportunity for local artists to showcase their talents. The interiors thus became a vast canvas for many talented artists in the area. The paintings, wall art and beautiful curios created by them adorn the interiors of this spectacular dwelling.
“The construction of my house was actually a workshop or a training session for the workers who built it. It was difficult finding expert artisans and workers who are experienced in building bamboo homes. The workers at Uravu and other local artisans were trained to build such a unique structure. The most amazing fact is that, they now became skilled workers who could efficiently build such houses. They have built lots of similar bamboo houses after gaining experience from my house,” says Baburaj proudly.
Keralites do not mind availing hefty loans to build a house of their own. However, Baburaj thinks that other than being just a place to live in, houses are a dead investment. He wanted to turn his house into a structure that could generate decent income as well. Thrikaipatta is a tourism village that is known for its indigenous crafts and beautiful nature. Lots of foreigners reach Wayanad to enjoy its beauty and often visit Uravu to learn more about sustainable living. Besides, students too come to Uravu as part of their internships. Two rooms in the top floor have been turned into a home stay where guests are hosted. It’s been more than a decade since this breathtaking house took shape. Babyraj says he has been able to earn more than half of what he had spent for its construction through the income that he receives from the home stay.
Turning the plot back into a pond was the most challenging and strenuous task. Around Rs 4 lakh was spent for this alone. Besides, the construction was completed for Rs 25 lakh. Thus a total of Rs 29 lakh was spent to build this mesmerizing bamboo structure in the middle of a pond. This amount is reasonable when compared to the expenses to build a three storey concrete house. Experts say it would at least cost Rs 65 lakh to construct a 3000 sq ft house in concrete.
Fishes are grown in the pond below and are fed with food waste from the kitchen. Baburaj says he grows rare species of fish. Though he doesn’t sell the fish, the family enjoys it as part of the sustainable living. They enjoy catching fish from the pond and cooking spicy delicacies.
Baburaj’s wife Sreeja works in the bamboo bag manufacturing unit of Uravu. The couple has two daughters – Nethi and Dyuthi. Both of them have completed their masters’ degree and are trying for jobs.
The family says people from all over the state visit their house to see its unique features. Many of them have even built bamboo houses like this. It's now a matter of pride for Baburaj and his family that their house has inspired many and has become an eco-friendly structure worthy of emulating.