Monday, September 7, 2009

Low cost house construction

This  heading by itself does not mean reducing cost of construction while attempting to build a house at least for Keralites.Possibly a foreigner architect settled ,lived and died in Kerala called Lawrie Baker introduced this concept called low cost construction with houses not plastered and looking a bit strange with odd shaped structural work
Basic assumption of Lawrie Baker was that material used for house construction is costly and labour is cheap.So every attempt should be made to save cost of material even if it meant increasing the labour input.
Today labour is not cheap and hence that theory advising to save only material has no relevance .Gradually those so called low cost houses are coming down and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find out masons who can do that type of brick work which do not require plastering.
In the beginning I was fascinated by the attempts to reduce cost of construction of houses.I have used filler slabs for roof which involve use of low quality clay tiles inside concrete to reduce steel reinforcement for roof slab,even though it meant searching for low quality tiles and using this type of concreting with not so happy reaction from my client.My client even though happy about reducing cost was never happy about filler slab roof concrete with reduced use of steel reinforcement and using clay tiles inside concrete as filler material
When you start doing cost reduction methods to reduce cost,you tend to become an architect for people with little money or more correctly people who are reluctant to part money which they have.Even after building the house with reduced house,my client will not be happy.With the usual Malayalee habit of always trying to find fault syndromme you end up having an unhappy client saying that even with all that low cost methods your cost of construction seems to be high!
To tell you the truth,I have never ever came across a client who does not say that cost of construction is high.Even if I build with loss,he will still say that cost of construction is high and normally no client will be happy to hear that the builder is making profit.All house owners pray and hope that the builder should make a loss.Even if the builder quit the trade after work on his house,he is not bothered.After  all he is not going to make another house
About five years back,I came across a christian priest who used to make houses for poor and then obtain almost double of his expenses for building houses for poor from the foreign charity organisations.In fact it was simply a lucrative business for him even though through paid advertisements in news papers he put his pictures and called himself as,"Karunyathinte nirakudom"(A symbol of mercy and love towards downtrodden)
When he called me to see construction going on in a plot for 40 houses for the poor,I have noticed that the poor were getting only poor quality construction and the contractor was simply getting rich partly due to ignorance of the priest on building related matters.After all he himself was not much bothered about quality of construction.He only wanted to take pictures of the houses and earn money from his foreign donors.

I offered to do the construction with better quality and lower cost.Naturally he was happy.But when I started doing the work with better quality materials and labour,he did not appreciate my good work.Just like any other client he started thinking that I must be making good profits.He started quarelling with me finding out excuses after excuses and started squeezing funds to me.Finally I was forced to get out of the contract after nearly 90% of work was completed as he avoided making payments to me even for the work done.
Then he started building similar houses directly without any contractor hoping that he can get the profit of contractor also.When he eventually spent more money naturally due to absence of professional management he stopped the project.
Almost all house owners building their houses think on the same lines.
They think the following
1.Contractor is making huge profit
2.If I remove the contractor and arrange materials directly and engage workers directly I will save lot of money.
He learns his lessons only by burning his hands and those lessons have no use as he is not going to build another house.
Any business need profit to survive.Profit is not a bad word.If somebody makes profit by running a business it is not due to looting of money.It is due to efficient management of the business.Not every person will  be able to make such profits if any without the professional capabilties,experience and capabilty to manage and run the business efficiently


  1. I completely agree with him. The profit should come out more from efficient handling and bulk / regular buying discounts etc. in this case it is a WIN WIN. Some transparency is also important to build the trust.

  2. Building contractor is to finishes the contract, the architect inspects that works and the if satisfied, he issues a practical completion of the certificate to certify that the works are practically and complete and the owner can move in to that house.

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