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Building multi-storey buildings without cement and bricks

According to a study last year by the Union housing ministry, there’s a shortage of nearly 18.7 million dwelling units in urban India and 43.6 million such units in rural areas while the percentage of people in need of a house from among the economically weaker sections was 56.2%. Photo: Mint (Mint)Premium
According to a study last year by the Union housing ministry, there’s a shortage of nearly 18.7 million dwelling units in urban India and 43.6 million such units in rural areas while the percentage of people in need of a house from among the economically weaker sections was 56.2%. Photo: Mint
(Mint)

IIT Madras unveils a building made entirely of the pre-fabricated panels

New Delhi: If Devdas Menon had his way, all of India would be living in glass houses. A professor of civil engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, Menon has been pondering the worrying problem of being able to figure out a way to make homes affordable for the majority of Indians.

Menon has no fix for spiralling land prices, but along with colleagues at IIT Madras he has managed to modify an idea pioneered by Rapidwall Building Solutions (RBS), an Australian company. RBS showed that it was possible to build multi-storey buildings without cement and bricks, and pre-fabricated panels made of a mixture of gypsum and glass fibre were a viable substitute for load-bearing walls. “We’ve gone a step ahead of this finding and figured that why just walls, you could make even the floors and ceilings and steps with such panels," said Menon.

Earlier this month, IIT Madras unveiled a two-storey building on its campus made entirely of the pre-fabricated panels that the scientists said costs half of what it takes to build with bricks and cement and is as strong.

“That estimate doesn’t include land prices but in every other respect it is as strong as you would expect a building to be," said Menon.

According to a study last year by the Union housing ministry, there’s a shortage of nearly 18.7 million dwelling units in urban India and 43.6 million such units in rural areas while the percentage of people in need of a house from among the economically weaker sections was 56.2%.

On the other hand, India has huge reserves of natural gypsum of the order of 1,120 million tonnes, of which recoverable reserves are estimated at 237 million tonnes. Apart from this, there is annual surplus production of gypsum of the order of 2-3 million tonnes that is discarded as waste from industrial and marine sources.

Manufacturing the panels, however, requires a certain level of expertise and buildings made this way wouldn’t be viable if the panels of a building were to be made in Chennai and had to be transported to Delhi. “Ideally, the places shouldn’t be too far. However the processes involved aren’t complex and can be easily transferred to a builders and manufacturers," Menon said.

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