Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The construction

I have owned the acre on which this Lodge is built since about 2002. It took me a while after I returned to Sri Lanka to decide how and what I should build. I had already purchased Kumbuk Thuduwa in Raja Ela near Hingurakgoda, which is 14 kilometers away. This was at the end of July 2006, and during this hot dry period of the year in this area, Rupe a local farmer's son Vasantha asked me when I was going to build. I told him that I was waiting for him to be ready and have the time to oversee the construction.

So within weeks of having sealed the purchase of that remarkable agricultural property a short distance away and having commenced the construction of a small cabin thereon, we began the formal ground breaking ceremony, taking into account the auspicious time of 7am on August 4th 2006. The ground had been cleared by burning out the dry brush, so that an area was opened up, from which we could get a better idea of the land, which we were not able to with thick under growth.

The lamps were lit facing the right direction. The incense sticks put and the prayers said before the work commenced. One goal was to build this house without having recourse to cutting any trees, either in this district or on my property in Godagama. I wanted to use as much recycled material as I was able to lay my hands on. Fallen trees were fair game.

We had to make some compromises on the ecological front however. The main one being the use of rock from a quarry to build a foundation 5 ft high so the house could be built on a platform. The goal was two fold, one being the height from ground level, which if heavy rains persist will not result in flooding. The other being a point from which the whole area can be surveyed at a height which will make the view from the verandah pleasing and the blowing wind, less dusty.

The amount of tractor trailer loads of the rock required to build the foundation was staggering as it required the wall around the perimeter and another splitting the perimetere for the inside wall to sit on.It took 30 loads of rock for the foundation and 20 loads for the well.

Once the foundation was built an excavator and back-hoe was used to dig the swimming pool size pond in front and the soil then used to fill the foundation. Once the soil was filled it had to be watered to let the earth subside and settle. In the settling process it drops a further foot when it is compacted.

The well, which is more than 20 foot deep, also required a tremendous amount of work which in the end produced a fine deep well that has good clear water. The quality of water is better than any water in any well in the immediate vicinity. The well hit a vein in the rock sub-surface resulting in spring water which is not the same as the lake water nearby.

The idea was to build the lodge with brick that was not going to be plastered. So I designed the size of the brick I wanted. It was manufactured in a kiln not too far from the property and the man who made them said it was not at all simple as each brick weighed over 2 kilos and was many times larger than the regular brick they make. However the square brick definitely adds charm to the place. It is unique in shape and can be mistaken for an ancient style.

I had not used a drawing or any set of plans. I had to therefore advise the builders all the way through as to what I wanted them to do, where the doors and windows should be placed etc. In keeping with village customs the front and rear doors had to be placed contrary to my preferred position, but that as it should, I did not want an element of doubt on the part of the masons and carpenters in case something happened.

Along the way a concrete skirt was made to raise the platform further and the brick therefore would be on this concrete strip rather than directly on the rock. Then when the lintel level was reached another concrete skirt had to be put around the house to ensure strength of the walls.

Four pillars and concrete cross beams with extra strength steel rods were also built on site. These beams had to extend out as the large verandah only has 4 pillars for the whole roof to rest on with support of the beams. It was a feat of engineering without the engineers for the local artisans. Local labour was used throughout.

Once the structure was complete the plaster was put into the inside room only so that the inside can be painted, the floor had to be concreted too. A white cement floor was laid on the concrete floor. This has to be carefully sanded with water sandpaper and using mechanical means smoothening the floor before waxing with colorless wax.

The doors and windows were inspired from a book of Gaudi's designs in Spain. It was not how I envisioned them to be, but the end product has the ancient style look, that goes hand in glove, with the brickwork of the period.The doors and windows in solid wood are extremely heavy and are held by heavy extra strength hinges to hold the weight. All doors and windows ar style e in the two pane style with no middle support. All doors and windows can be opened and fully extended so both the inside and outside look can be seen and appreciated.

Part of the floor inside the closed room is covered in Kumbuk hard wood, which as a bedroom will be unique as the only wood pannelled floor of any room in the area. No mechanical tools were used to plane the wood floor, so it definitely has a old look, which adds to the claim of the building that would be more like one in the 11th century.

No ducting was put for future electricity supply, as the intention is to lay the wiring on piping that will make it easy to maintain in preference to wires buried by cutting into the walls.

The toilet block is seperate with a unique design allowing two sets of toilets to be used at one time but which has a unifying look with the two wash basins at the front of the block at either end. The allows one to look at the sky as it is open on the top.

The roof tiling used was primarily from my father's house in Colombo, and many of these tiles were manufactured in India over 80 years previously. My father's house has now been laid with asbestos sheets instead and I retrieved the tiles which otherwise would have been thrown.

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