In 2012, the Auroville Earth Institute took on a project to design and build a community centre in the remote Himalayan town of Kaza, 3600M Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh. Designed by the Institute’s team of architects, the ground floor will include a village hall, a optical clinic, a centre for indigenous craft, a library, and a kitchen The first floor will be devoted to guest accommodation for visitors travelling to Kaza from outlying regions.
The Kaza Eco-Community Centre
The project is being sponsored by The Spiti Projects, under the leadership of Joan Pollock. The Spiti Projects has been operating as a charity in Spiti for 20 years; it is committed to addressing environmental and conservation issues and aims to help improve the health, hygiene and wellbeing of the people of the Spiti Valley. The community centre has been designed to respond to the need for specialised clinics and community services in an area where people often have to travel over 50 km to reach medical facilities. An optical clinics is much needed at this altitude, where high UV radiation, thin atmosphere and reflected light from the mountain faces are damaging to eyesight.
The building, which consists of a stone masonry foundation, CSEB (Compressed Stabilsed Earth Bricks ) -. Using local Earth (or mud) which is Stabilised with a little cement (4%?) plus water to activate and them. Compressed in the machine to form a brick – which just needs time to ‘cure’ or harden the cement /earth mixture, and rammed earth walls, has been designed especially against the harsh winter climate of Spiti. Trombe walls have been incorporated for passive heating of the building during the winter. The trombe wall system incorporates a large glass façade separated by 7 cm from a rammed earth wall, which creates an air space between the facade and the mass wall. Solar radiation penetrates the glass facade to heat the rammed earth and the air in the cavity, the hot air rises, and is drawn by convection into the building through a small ventilator. This creates a one-way, passive convection circuit through the building, which increases thermal gain and keeps inside temperatures well above freezing without the assistance of a conventional heating system.
The Earth Institute initially designed a traditional roof system; this was not possible because wood is not locally available as the valley is above the tree-growing level and so a composite roof system with steel beams and earth filling was chosen.
Rammed earth with the “wet” technique of Spiti Valley
As the region is prone to seismic activity, earthquake-resistant features have been incorporated. The building has been designed to resist seismic events, and buttress walls have been added for lateral stability. Since vertical reinforcement can be problematic in rammed earth, extensive horizontal reinforcement has been used. This includes horizontal ring beams with the Earth Institute’s CSEB U-block system and bamboo reinforcement embedded into the rammed earth walls and buttresses at critical corners of the building. Special rammed earth formworks have been designed, adapted from the traditional rammed earth formwork of Spiti, to incorporate these seismic resistance elements.
In June 2013, Satprem Maïni and Lara Davis travelled to Spiti to supervise the plinth and damp proof course construction, to organise the team of local masons and workers, and to initiate the construction of the rammed earth. T. Ayyappan joined them to supervise and assist with the formworks for the rammed earth walls, and then Lara stayed on to supervise the beginning of the rammed earth construction. With Satprem, Lara, and Ayyappan now back in Auroville, the site supervision has been taken over by architect Swati Negi. She continues to oversee the work and has been joined by T Ayyappan for the final month until weather forces the construction site to close for the season at the end of September.
Straight section of designed rammed earth formwork