Friday, December 7, 2012

Two more weeks!

the land in august (dry season) when we bought it
neighborhood mutts take refuge from the rains
the water buffalo next door

a lovely sunset

our contractor draws lines in the dirt to show us where a new wall is going to be
there it is! the bricks were made in a hand built kiln in madu's friend's backyard

a family of pigs has a pen just on the property boundary near the lake

madu and his cousin plant frangipani trees in the rain

madu and his uncle discuss the state of the house and bob marley
Two more weeks until I'm back in SL to check out the progress of the house.  Madu's been there since 30 Nov working his butt off and I've been answering lots of wood related questions for the ceiling an doors/windows. The carpenter can't actually put anything up until the rainy season ends but he's making the window and door frames in his workshop.  He's also got a local woodworker carving window and door ventilations for us.  It's so important for a house in tropical environment to get air flowing through it when nobody is there and the doors are closed.  The ventilation screens normally look something like this:

But I found the lotus design below online and fell in love with it, and the carpenter said it was possible to carve in wood, leaving the background open to let the air in.  I am looking forward to see what it looks like!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

There's a Giant on My House! A Jersey Girl's introduction to Sri Lankan Feng Shui

My friend, Vasthu Purusha
"The bedroom has too many doors," said the architect.

I looked at the plan again-- french doors out to the verandah, door to the bathroom, door to the living room and closet door if that even counts.  All the doors seemed, to me, pretty justifiable so I asked Madu to clarify.

"It's against our culture to have so many doors," says Madu.

The New Jersey in me rolled her eyes, but it was clear there was more to this than one guy's door hangup.  A little internet digging led me to a world that I never knew existed-- the world of Vaasthu Shastra.  Every time we fired changes to our plan to the architect, he fired back with little bitty changes of his own design, I never understood why.  Now it was becoming clear-- he was taking our Western plan and trying to adhere to the principles of Vaasthu Shastra, or as the cynic in me calls it, Sri Lankan feng shui.

Vaasthu has roots in ancient Indian architecture and its set of rules that take into account the sun's effects, the earth's magnetic, energy and cosmic fields (please don't ask me to define a cosmic field) and elements of nature.  The five elements of nature (water, earth, sky, air, fire) have to align with the cardinal directions (north, east, south, west, northwest, southeast, northeast, southwest) or the occupants of the house will have bad luck.

So, please let me introduce you to the friendly giant sitting on our house plan, Vasthu Purusha.  He's the living energy of the earth symbolized as a human being.  Sorry, he's upside down because he's got to face the entrance which is northeast.  The position of his body indicate where certain parts of the house belong.  The pooja, or place for prayer is at his head.  Generally speaking, the septic tank should be in the direction of his genitals and his heart should be open, clear of obstructions.

I found lots of ancient Indian Vasthu house designs, the one below is my favorite.  I can just imagine Scrooge McDuck taking a swan dive into the treasure room.

The position of the parts of the house roughly follow the sun-- northeast corner-- the pooja, or prayer room.  The prayers happen just before sunrise, when the sun is in the northeast. As the family wakes up and sun moves East, it's time to bathe-- hence the bathroom.  The sun is setting in the West as the family is having dinner in the Dining Area.  The the ‘prana’ or life-giving energy, is symbolically believed to enter from the North-East, early in the morning and move around to the East, South-East, North-West, West and finally exit through the South-West at night when everyone falls asleep.

Not sure where we're going to find the cheerful housewife, maybe I'll put something on Craig's List

How does our plan stack up to Vasthu?  Pretty well, considering.  The Lord of Fire presides over the southeast (kitchen), our entrance and pooja spot is in the northeast, septic tank is to the west-ish, Serenity calm and peace bedroom (or conjugated living, depending who you ask) is in the Northwest.

I call this an accidentally alignment because we actually followed many of the rules of placement of rooms for minimum energy use in a tropical climate.  We'll have "emergency air conditioning" in the bedroom for the hot season but the rest of the house will be naturally ventilated with the assistance of ceiling fans and possible a solar powered attic exhaust fan. The principles related to keeping a house cool in tropical sun are at the roots of Vaasthu-- not surprising when you think about how hot a house with no electricity in ancient India could get.

Next up: Traditional building in Sri Lanka: Where does the green come in?

Friday, November 16, 2012

A $35 Architect and the Sri Lankan Pony Express

Last November when we were in Sri Lanka for Eid, I found a plan I liked online.  God bless the internet.  Nice and simple with a verandah, open kitchen, actually has a closet (another lesson learned from the Crack Shack) it looked perfect.  We were in my husband's village and we called the one of the local architects to see if he could make a plan from it.  He came over, looked at the image on my laptop and sketched on a pad of paper that looked like it was from the Raj era.  His fee was a whopping $35, and I'll admit it, I was skeptical.  He came back to the house with a computer generated plan that looked pretty legit!
It's got coconut trees, looks good to me
When we got back to Saudi, I took another look and checked out some websites about making naturally ventilated tropical houses, and got some advice some friends (thank you, Chris Newns!).  The result was sending the poor architect this piece of whited out/Sharpied architectural vomit that he then needed to make into another proper plan:

I'm not an architect but I play one on TV

Wait, that sounds easy, like the architect just needed to check his iPhone.  He doesn't have email.  Sending the plan involved sending one of Madu's friends to the village "communication shop" and getting an email address of someone who works there.  I sent the plan to the random communication shop worker, which he printed out.  Another friend of Madu's who knows the architect had to go to the internet shop, find the worker, ask him to print the paper, hop in a tuk tuk and hand deliver it to the architect's home.  The Sri Lankan pony express. 

Next post: Learning about Sri Lankan Feng Shui the hard way.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

$10,000 and dreaming of turtles

Last summer there was some land for sale in my husband's village Sri Lanka and it was cheeeeeaap.  $10,000 for almost two acres, right on a lake.  We'd be crazy not to take it!  We'd have our very own space and not have to stay with the in laws when we visited.  Maybe we could even have hot water...that doesn't involve boiling kettles!  The first world possibilities were endless.  Then the fine print started rolling in...keep in mind English is Madu's second language and he kept mixing up the words "title" and "turtle."

Me: "$10,000 for two acres on lake! What's the catch, is it a crocodile hatchery?"

Madu: "Well, we don't have the proper turtle to the land, it's the turtle before the proper turtle."

Me: "Title, honey, title,"

Madu: "And, we can only actually build on one acre of the two, but if we plant coconut trees on the rest of it, the government can't take it.  We apply for the proper tur..title once we have a house and water and electricity.  And if we have coconut trees because it proves our family has lived there for a long time."

Hmm...sounds like the sketchiest coconut laden plan ever. Of course we bought it.

The Original Plan:

Build a simple one room structure on the land for the sole purpose to get water and electricity-- on our quest for the holy grail, the Proper Title from the Sri Lankan government.  One problem: we've already done that on another piece of land we have (don't worry, we have the proper turtle for that one) and it's a teeny step up from camping.  We have an acre of prime beachfront land on one of the most beautiful islands on earth and we never go there. 

This photo was from A Very CrackShack Christmas, circa 2010.

The architectural plan for the Crackarus Shackarus involved drawing lines in the sand with a stick.  It actually turned out pretty well considering!  However, I wanted something a little more livable.  Something with a kitchen that does not double as the front porch would be nice.

The New Plan:

Make as simple of a house as possible that is still comfortable.  Main point-- get water and electricity to the land and get that turtle!  Secondary...making a little home of our own in the village and get experience building a house in that part of the world for the day when we'll build our "real" beach house.

Up next, A $35 Architect and the Sri Lankan pony express.