Masons Ink’s heart and soul lies in Reviving Heritage, Making Green Homes made of Mud and re-purposed materials, and also to conduct workshops in order to educate more people about their initiative.
Here’s the inspiring story of Sridevi Changali & Rosie Paul and their brainchild Masons Ink Architecture.
What is Sustainable Architecture?
Architecture in itself is one of the most energy consuming industries world over. The best way to be sustainable would be to refrain from building in the first place. But as that is not a feasible option, the next best would be to opt for building solutions that sit lightly on the planet. To put it simply, build using local technology and local resources thus reducing the carbon footprint.
What is Heritage Conservation?
Heritage conservation is a rather large term which includes both the intangible and intangible. Therefore, any measure taken to protect what has been in the past for the benefit of future generations could be defined as heritage conservation. When it comes to the tangible built heritage, it is the most sustainable forms of architecture as you are prolonging the life of a building for more time and refraining from using more resources to build.
How did the two of you decide for a partnership on Masons Ink. ?
We studied architecture together in Manipal, and we were roommates. We have known each other for nearly 11 years. During which, Rosie also did her Post-Masters in earthen architecture from France. A UNESCO affiliated course. It’s been a pretty long-term association, through our friendship during college time and now we’ve run this company for about 5 years. It’s our 6th year running.
What made you guys have the vision for sustainable heritage architecture?
Even during architecture, we were very much into topics like sustainability and heritage buildings, neither of us knew what we were more excited by. It was always a concern for us thinking about the human scale and its impacts on the environment in the construction industry. Right from the first semester of our college, we always had an inkling towards the lesser threaded path of heritage and sustainability in our projects. We were mocked for our vintage design preferences, as many of our peers would stick to the modern styles of architecture, with sleek futuristic designs.
What has helped you as beginners, in setting up your business?
We have been lucky to find the right mentors and the right network to connect and find resources, which has also helped us find clients that would easily connect with our ideas. My beginnings from Auroville Earth Institute helped us, knowing we had the backing of experts and professors who promoted what we are doing. Throughout the 4 years of our training, and the NGOs we worked with, we had the good luck of meeting amazing people who were encouraging and supportive of our startup. Everyone we have worked with also has the same thought process about being eco-conscious and connected with the community in their work. It wasn’t very difficult to begin.
You could say on a certain level we haven’t been keen on exploring the other side of architecture which is very focused on the commercial aspect. When it comes to business, our eco-system has been within this sustainable community, so we have really used it for our advantage and our business growth and innovation.
What have been some of your roadblocks in propagating a sustainable startup?
We started really young and it was difficult to get a client or two, to take our opinions and expertise seriously. Although we came with enough knowledge, experience, and industry mentors, we were sometimes perceived as “These two young girls” by clients who couldn’t be entirely sure about getting involved with us. So, getting them to take us a little more seriously was one of the roadblocks we faced in the beginning.
Also, we work mostly with people who are already thrilled about sustainability. Early on in our work, we realized beyond a certain point, we will not convince a client to care about building their house eco-consciously if they seem to have a very surface understanding of sustainability. Sometimes people look at the high cost and expenditure that affects them in the present and forget to realize the investment helps them reduce maintenance cost later in life. Our experience of working with a client who isn’t intrinsically eco-conscious has been that they could get easily manipulated by opinions from their society, during the project, and flip on their “Interest” in sustainability if they did not feel passionate for the idea.
But Yes, we do have people who agree that being environmentally conscious is important and are fully invested in the project, understanding its cost effective and its importance in the long run.
That’s a very carefully deduced approach. Which experience made you realize you cannot push a client beyond a certain point if they aren’t fully invested in the eco-friendly house?
Long before we started Mason ink. We had a project in Madurai, where there wasn’t enough awareness about eco-friendly constructions. Although the client wanted a mud house and an eco-friendly house, everyone around him had absolutely no confidence, One because it’s an alternate material. Two because there were two young women architects calling the shots and making decisions. Somewhere along with the project. He stopped believing in the material and went in the other direction. So, because of that one hard experience, in the beginning, we do create awareness and we do tell them from the beginning itself about using earth as a beautiful material to build houses, and the long-term benefits and worth when it comes to operational costs. Usually, we are successful in being able to fully register our clients into the idea, after creating this awareness.
But the end of the day we do not push them too far into something they aren’t comfortable with because our product is a home. It’s an expensive and long-term investment that requires a lot of heavy decision making. So, we try to bring down the cost via other means in these cases, we design spaces to make sure the house can use a minimal amount of artificial cooling or artificial lights, etc by allowing sunlight and using natural cooling construction ideas. So, we still try to use other methods to make sure the building can be less heavy on the planet.
How do people find your services? What aspect of your company attracts them the most?
As an architectural firm, we do struggle, in the beginning, to bring in some clientele. But after one or two successful projects, we grew via word of mouth recommendations which has been great for us. Our clients usually find us because they are attracted to the story, intention and their need to live more sustainably.
Why is conducting workshops and outreach programme, an important part of what you do?
Firstly, because the demand is not much, these eco-friendly options for construction is unfortunately very niche in the market, so contractors charge us a higher rate. It is extremely crucial the demand rises so the prices can come down. Sustainable choices must become affordable, and accessible. So, to counter the problems, we have been working on outreach and conducting talks and workshops so we can get people to feel they must create a demand to drive change and opt for eco-friendly options in construction.
But for now, the people who already have an eco-friendly vision for their homes will be the early adopters of this idea.
It is important to have these outreach programmes to spread awareness in the market.
Secondly, I know we are a small drop in the large ocean that is the construction industry, but for us training, the skill set of people from our local communities is the next step to create some change.
What has been a peak moment for Masons ink so far?
I would like to say we are always looking for our peak moment, that’s what keeps us going. Otherwise, we might throw our hat in and call it a day. I would say we have had moments of small success, as little as; when someone who was in your workshop for a day gets inspired to rethink his life and goes on to work on projects. It sets off unforeseen butterfly effects. It is heartwarming to know planting an idea can result in change, in unexpected ways.
Also, another peak moment was when we were trying to decide if we should hire a mason who already has experience in handling our material, or should we train someone ground up. Because the aesthetic finish will obviously be different from a beginner. So, we chose to train someone who worked in the ordinary construction industry and trained him. And it gives us joy that his work now contributes to a sustainable future. Otherwise, he would have been building with concrete, and now he uses mud and builds a contemporary eco-friendly house.
Sometimes even when we get curious questions about our work, we tend to forget what we are working on is making a difference. These reminders are also a nice moment for us to reflect on our journey and the impact we made, 5 years down the line.
What future do you see for your industry, architecture, and design?
We fear that building mud houses, just for the sake of a popular trend, could ultimately turn into another unsustainable problem if it is done unconsciously. It is a human tendency, after all, imagine mud houses getting so popular that you would have to get it transported from another location because it isn’t available in your geographic region maybe. It’s a small example but one might inadvertently end up contributing even more to the exploitation of natural resources, in their concern to catch up with the “trends”. The future of infrastructure lies in making sure materials are locally sourced, interiors are smartly designed for optimal use of energy and natural resources. Our industry inherently is a major contributor to pollution and climate change. It is not just about building new structures, but also restoring and refurbishing existing buildings and add sustainable technology. So we really hope people don’t jump on to the “trend of mud houses” without enough information, but really understand the logic behind what makes their house sustainable.
Interview Curated by Mridula Joshi