Sharanam Centre for rural development

Social / Sep - Oct 2016

Sharanam Centre for rural development

September 7, 2016

Built at the edge of a rural landscape ravaged by illegal quarrying, the Sharanam Centre for Rural Development enables a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) to expand its community-led transformation of chronically underdeveloped villages outside Pondicherry, India. Meaning ‘refuge’, Sharanam comprises a large vaulted hall, offices, kitchen, gardens and environmental infrastructure integrated into a healed 5-acre landscape. It is recognized by the United Nations Environment Programme and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) as one of the five Greenest buildings in India.


The main materials used in construction had low embodied energy and were of high quality and durability, thereby minimizing future maintenance. The primary material is earth, namely the red soil of the site itself. The soil composition of 50 percent sand, 20 percent clay, 15 percent gravel and 15 percent silt was considered ideal for earth construction technology. The soil was excavated at the lowest point of the site. Top soil was carefully removed and stored. The resulting ‘pit’ created a small reservoir for harvesting surface water run-off.

From this soil, over 250,000 compressed earth blocks of nine different
dimensions were manually pressed. These blocks, precise to 0.5 millimeters, were not fired (thereby eliminating the need to fell and burn trees as well as avoiding air pollution) and attained considerable strength by being stabilized with 5 percent cement and cured under the hot sun for one month. Compared to market bricks, tests showed that these earth blocks were three times the wet compression strength, one-third of the price and contained one-tenth of the embodied energy.


Project Name Sharanam, A Centre for Rural Development blank
Location Usteri Lake, Pondicherry, India
Completion Date July 2014
Site Area 20,200 square metres (4.5 acres)
Gross Floor Area 1,728 square metres, with additional 769 square metres of formal landscaped gardens, amphitheatre, terracing and accessible roof gardens
Number of Rooms 22 (including bathrooms)
Building Height Superstructure: 6.55 to 7.15 metres; offices and kitchen: 4.30 metres
Client/Owner Sri Aurobindo Rural Village Action & Movement (SARVAM), a unit of Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry
Funding Partner Cadbury Schweppes Asia Pacific Pte Ltd
Architecture Firm Jateen Lad
Main Contractor Jateen Lad
Project Assistants Trupti Doshi; Chandranath Sinha; Spencer Fretwell
Electrical Engineer Asha Electricals
Earth Technology Consultant Auroville Earth Institute
Head Masons Velmurugan; Kumar; Muthulingam; Ramaraj; Palani; Bhaktawatchalam
Images/Photos Jateen Lad; Sri Aurobindo Society

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