Every mobile living being always looks for a shelter. A shelter that protects it from the harsh forces of nature, from predators, and provides a safe place to breed and take care of the young.
To move from a nomadic culture to an agricultural community, man must have felt the need for stronger, longer lasting, larger shelters to support the growing families. The locally available soil, wood and stone became the natural building raw materials. Soil, of course, because of its abundant availability and ease of workability, became the foundation of popular architecture for human settlement.
Later, stone would find its prominence in monumental architecture of temples, forts, palaces. A material, much more difficult than soil to excavate, transport and build with, for the kings and the gods.
People building their houses with soil, over several generations, became more and more familiar with the material, picked up skills from observation, experience and inherent human creativity. Plant and animal fibres were added to the soil to enhance its stability and pigments were added to obtain different colours. Throughout the world, earth architecture varies in form and practice, but the timeless magic of a earth house is the same everywhere.
Today, only a sixth of human population still lives in houses built from soil. As our population grows steadily and we face the responsibility of housing more and more people in less and less time and space, the patience needed to build an imperfect mud house, is a luxury hard to afford. The promise of a stronger, bigger and quicker building by use of modern construction material such as cement, iron, steel etc. has taken over our imaginations and earth architecture is slowly losing significance.
The modern construction technology is not just an advancement of human creativity in the area of building houses/structures. It is a step back from the understanding of a house and the role it plays in shaping our energy. Today, the idea of a shelter has evolved from a mere shell for protection to an extension of our lives, a home preserving and reflecting our stories through time. The form and material of the house decide not only how strong the house is, it decides the nature of our home, its compatibility with the environment and its ability to calm and heal.
Though it might be an impractical dream to shelter everyone in a mud-house, the knowledge of building with mud has more significance than just housing, and needs to be preserved and shared. It reminds us of our simple past, where working with nature and its elements did not require formal education. It also opens up a discourse on natural building, which can be from any locally available natural resource. Like most things in our modern world, we take building material and technology for granted. Cement and steel, despite their enormous ecological cost, are available easily today. In a few hundred years, this will have to change.
Building with soil asks us to observe and feel the material around us and be creative in shaping it into a shelter. Mud is forgiving, healing and addictive. It gets as much under your fingernails as it does in your soul.