Saturday, December 22, 2007

Back to Dinajpur
October 7, 2007

I was so inspired by my trip to Jessore that I decided to make an impromptu trip back to Dinajpur to meet with Anna to see if I could convince her to design a resort for me!

After a grueling 12 hour bus ride (it is supposed to be an 8 hour trip, but they are repairing the roads around Bogra), I finally arrived at Dipshika, the NGO where Anna is building her latest school.

I was immediately put to work. Stefan, the German engineer, and I were assigned the task of mixing the borax solution that Anna would treat the bamboo with. (If left untreated bamboo will quickly be devoured by termites.) She had built a pool to fill with borax solution, but apparently it had a leak, so they built another pool and Stefan and I were in charge of transferring the borax to the new pool and making sure the concentrations were correct. Our tools were an aquarium salinity monitor, a very old set of scales with some missing weights, and a couple of empty water bottles.

First we had to figure out how to weigh the borax and boric acid using some very old scales. As I mentioned, some of the weights were missing, so Stefan held the scale while I looked for rocks that would make the scale balance with 100 g on one side and 90 g on the other side. (We were missing a 10 g weight…)

After we had calibrated our scale, we had to figure out how to test the concentration of borax solution. I suggested mixing one batch that was the correct measurement, one with a higher concentration, and one with a lower concentration. We used the aquarium monitor first to see where the correct setting was. We took note of where this was on the measure. Then we measured the higher and lower concentrations so we knew if the scale would go up or down if it was off concentration. And it worked! Stefan and I felt very smart at the end of the day having figured this out with just a few rudimentary tools! It was a test of resourcefulness and I think that we passed with flying colors!

The next day Anna suggested that I observe the mud mixing process. She said this was the key to a good building and that it was important to know what the proper ratios should be and how the mixing is done. I took copious notes and even walked around in the mud pits with the water buffalo myself!

I definitely learned a lot, and I don’t think that I have every sweat as much as I did during that visit! (It was extremely hot and we were working very hard!)

Unfortunately, Anna will not have the time to come back to Bangladesh to supervise my hotel project, but she did recommend a Bangladeshi architect friend of hers, Marina Tabassum. Marina had a project that was also nominated for the Aga Khan Award. Her style is also very much in line with mine, so I am eager to talk to her. Anna said that she would be able to act as a construction consultant on the project though and is happy that her techniques are going to be adapted elsewhere.

While I was there I also spoke with several members of her construction crew and they are all very eager to come to Jessore to help me with my project. I am really happy about this because these are new construction techniques and so far Anna’s crew the only ones that are trained in them. I am hoping to take half the guys from Dinajpur and hire another 15-20 men in Jessore. This way another team learns the new building techniques and hopefully they will be able to use them to homes in the Jessore area. The technique was designed to be used with low-income housing and it a great alternative to the traditional mud construction because it is much more durable and holds up to rain and pests much better. The natural cooling ability of the mud walls also makes it much more comfortable that the typical concrete and CI sheet homes.

So things are really starting to come together!

If you want more information on Anna’s METI school, you can visit her website:

You can also see photos that I took of her school in my September 7, 2007 blog entry:

If you would like to see examples of Marina Tabassum’s work, you can go here:

Stefan and the Scale
Here is the little scale we had to measure the borax and boric acid.

Borax Pool
Anna is inspecting our work...

Water Buffalo!
They are called moesh in Bangla. These guys mix the mud and the straw together. Achieving the right mud consistency is essential to project success!

Nikhail and Me
Nikhail is the second level foreman on the project. We pose for this photo in front of the moesh pit.

Anna is Caught Snoozing
Poor Anna has worked every day without resting. Though she looks asleep, she actually got up five minutes later and resumed work! What a trouper!

As an added treat, here is a small movie of the water buffalo mixing the mud...


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