Thirukannur is a beautiful little potter’s village about 120 kms south of Chennai, towards Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu. The site for the Thirukannur Women’s Centre (TWC) is a beautiful little place situated on a high patch on the banks of a narrow brook that runs through Thirukannur. The site is very shady due to the presence of huge tamarind trees and is an ultimate place for the women/community to gather at anytime during the day, even during very hot summers. Thirukannur needed a small covered space for nurturing the Women’s Self Help Group’s (WSHG) and their projects, including the idea of tailoring as an economic booster to the village. The Thirukannur community also needed the space to serve as a place for occasional community celebrations. Thus, the requirement broke down to a small multi-purpose built up space.
Challenges: The project began initially in 2006. A site was identified, an interactive design workshop was held, and a design was developed to meet the needs of the community. However the project stalled after this effort. The initially approved site was deemed too small and inappropriate, and the process of identifying and getting the required site approvals for a new site, took a considerable amount of time.
Subsequent delays were experienced due to the inclement weather, labor and the lack of material availability. It has been observed that constant monitoring is required on these projects as often work just stops due to a host of reasons, few of them valid. One never really knows the true status unless they visit the site. On future projects, especially low budget projects in rural India, I recommend the local project representative for Architecture for Humanity reside close to the sites to facilitate frequent monitoring, and/or, there be funds allocated for a full time staff on local partner’s team who would be responsible for daily supervision, coordination, and timely execution.
Overall, the team and partners worked well together, all desiring and achieving the best possible for the community.
DESCRIPTION OF STRUCTURE/PROJECT
The TWC is a well situated, comfortable and empowering space for the women of the community. The WSHG’s will meet here on a regular basis.
The design of TWC is simple and straightforward. It taps the maximum usable area on site without compromising the shade available for outdoor community spaces. The design also offers good views of the brook from inside the centre and in the form of outdoor seating areas abutting the banks. Encompassing an interior area of approximately 600SF, the form is a rectangle chamfered at one corner. Entry into the center is through an open and a shady seating court that offers seating areas for the community. Ample number of windows and ventilators on all sides of the centre give room to a lot of natural light and ventilation. There is an external working space for the women at the rear side of the center overlooking the brook, thus extending the inside to the outside. The interior walls of the center are equipped with facilities like black boards, storage and display shelves.
NUMBERS, GENDER, AGES OF PRIMARY BENEFICIARIES:
40 WSHG members, all women, ages 25-50; 3 times a week
20 Adolescent girls, 18-22
INCOME LEVEL: Annual income approximately Rs. 12000 ($240) to Rs.20000 ($400). (mostly agriculture and agriculture labor, pottery)
BUILDING REACH: Based on the above information, the premises will be used by 60 persons.
BUILDING OCCUPANCY: 35 persons max. (85 including the additional 50 people that can be accommodated in the areas around the site).
Labor: 25. Additional labor of 20 for making CSEBs.(The masons, having learned the skills of CSEB block making, are not only earning income through their newly acquired skill, but are also demonstrating and teaching their skills, in places as far as Chennai city.
Architecture for Humanity Design Fellows: 3
PBRC Staff: 11
Auroville volunteers, film crew and journalists have visited the building. People from neighboring communities and villages are visiting the building.
The project is being viewed as a model project in the region. Not only have the villagers from this (Nadukuppam) village of 3000 have been visiting the project site, but also there have been many visitors from 6 nearby hamlets and villages. PBRC has received requests for providing a similar building for their villages. A couple of communities are very keen to build a similar project.
TWC boasts of its walls made out of compressed stabilized earth blocks (CSEB) that are made locally on site. CSEB is a development from traditional rammed earth. Stabilization aims to stabilize silt and clay against water, so as to give lasting properties with minimum maintenance. The most common stabilizers are cement and lime. In Thirukannur’s case, cement is used for stabilizing. The building is cost-effective, sustainable and eco-friendly. A tiled roof over a wooden truss sits on top of the structure giving the centre a complete aesthetic appeal. The window fenestrations have metal grills whose design reflects the potter community. To save costs, and materials, no glass and wood frame windows have been provided at this point, but can be added on, if it proves to be necessary, at a later date.
TWC sits perfectly amidst the huge trees, complimenting the site and is a landmark to the entire neighbourhood. Not to forget that TCC can be seen from any point in the village!
Thirukkanur Village, under the M. Pudupakkam Panchayat;
2 Women’s Self Help Groups including Thulasi WSHG lead by Vsugi, Vanaroja WSHG lead by Devi and Varalakshmi; and village head, Venugopal.