The Fired Mudbrick House Project
Jan de Rooden

Spring 2002 I published the first page of the Fired Mudbrick House chapter on our website.
Time permitting I continue writing this report. Now and again I notice that website visitors remain interested in this experiment in India
and in its eventual feasibility.
Only a short while ago I realised, that I have at hand information, I could have provided earlier.
In 1991 Ray Meeker, in the Indian magazine “Architecture + Design” published a report on the eleven projects, he realised up to then.
This paper, titled "Mud", I have now scanned and – with excuses for my limited skills – edited for this site.

From the account of the successive projects several conclusions can be drawn.
These conclusions underline facts, which Ray and I discerned already during our initial tests in 1985 and 1986.
The Fired Mud brick House could have a reasonable chance in India:

  1. in a region with good (brick)clay and competent brick makers and potters;
  2. in a region with fuel available, coal or better still casuarina wood,
    a fast-growing and highly caloric wood, that can be a crop in brackish water;
  3. in a region with a market for pottery ware in its vicinity .
    To be fired well the mud houses must be loaded.
    This "product" will hopefully recover the monye invested in fuel.
    Table moulded bricks for clean masonry work are very suitable,
    and so are terracotta wares, which can yield a still higher price.
We alreay knew, too, that the fired mudhouse method is very sensitive to the human factor.
The method stands or falls with the ceramic insight of the people in charge and the reliability of entrepreneur and builder.
Cutting down on fuel has the same effect on a fired mud roof as cutting down on cement in normal building.
Timely and regular payments of the Low Cost Housing-subsidies are crucial.
Fire-stabilized mud building, as Ray calls it, needs many hands. Entire families have to be retained, workers who often live by the day.
If weekly or even daily wages failed, they would be forced to offer themselves elsewhere thus endangering the building progress.
Workable periods in India are very much climate determined. A good mud-building project therefore must be secured by a very strict schedule.
When overtaken by monsoon rains, before they have been hardened by fire, mud structures literally fall to pieces.
Until in 1993, when he was approached by civil servants in charge of Low-cost Housing projects, Ray had been working with private persons
and entrepreneurs.

These civil servants asked Ray to realize a village of approximately fifty fired mud-brick houses.
Well acquainted with the frustrating, endless bureaucratic procedures of the country Ray only accepted after having wrestled all kinds
of hard promises. Nevertheless he had to move heaven and earth to get to the building site the well trained brick-makers, potters and
woodcutters, as well as the equipment and material he needed, before he finally could start.
By then the favourable building season was well underway, a message he did not withhold. But the civil servants seemed stone deaf.

Houses were going up and some had already been fired, when financing ceased and Ray discovered, that his dedicated site-supervisor was
paying indispensable workers from his own pocket and that this man, undernourished, contracted malaria and had to go home.
Eventually Ray chose loss of face above more misery for the workers and for those who waited for a promised house.

In a letter end of 1994 Deborah Smith, Ray's spouse, mused, how on that beautiful location with its enviable cool wind from the mountain
the jungle soon would overgrow the mudbuildings and idle mudbricks.
Ray himself by then was already busy with the next project, though he confessed in the same letter, that he still had his doubts about
the economic feasibility of the fired mud procedure. Other Low Cost Housing methods came with better results; although, he was quick
to point out, somewhere there seemed to circulate calculations with positive figures.
The attitude of a hardened idealist who keeps pursuing his goal?

Meanwhile, for some years already, Ray has shifted his full attention and energy back to his ceramic studio.
Does this mean, that the fire-stabilized mudbuilding era has come to a halt?
Or to put it otherwise, is there actually anybody else than Ray willing to devote so many good years to this project?

To the “Mud”report: