SSEK – Collaborative Artisanal Construction Folktale

While the Surwahi Social Ecoestate Kanha (SSEK) coliving cum homestay project was always conceptualised to be sustainable and eco-tourism first, it was incredible support received from local Kanha villagers which lead to project incorporating community involvement, collaboration and empowerment as an essential vision and mission of the project. Right from conceptualisation to implementation to get the first phase of the homestay ready for a soft launch, camaraderie has been the key highlight here. So much is said about having a belief, instilling the right team culture in an organisation to enable people to perform their best. Surwahi Social is a live example of the same that stands testimony to the fact that coordinated, cohesive and synchronised efforts between all involved parties. It includes the founders, local manager and his family, the architect and their team, the contractor and his team, plenty of local vendors and lastly hundreds of village farmers who double up as artisanal construction workers depending on their farming season. All of these stakeholders are playing an unbelievable role taking up the challenge of sustainable construction, getting used to overcoming all kinds of material sourcing, procurement, building discovery, design and structural obstacles at Surwahi Social Ecoestate Kanha.

Surwahi Social Ecoestate Kanha – a paradigm of collaborative work
Environment and sustainability was one-part of the objectives behind Surwahi, the other was about empowering the local community at this small village of Surwahi in Paraswada Tehsil of district Balaghat, Madhya Pradesh, India. The founders of SSEK and the architectural team approached the concept of setting up this homestay near kanha premises with a firm belief of respecting local age-old practices of residential construction, trust on the local wisdom for solving hard regional problems of the area and improvise them minimally with modern scientific civil engineering prudence in a docile manner. This approach became the foundational pillar that leads to open exchange of ideas, thought leadership, process refinement and method tuning between the founders and the local village community of construction artisans cum farmers. There was mutual respect for the knowledge that each side possessed and the native workers of the land were given the status and assurance of valued colleagues that saw them participating with full zeal and enthusiasm in the project.

What the founders and architectural team learnt from the local community?
The skills and know-how of the local building construction artisans, hard and intensive work, eagerness to learn new techniques, manually driven processes, working as a team, trusting and collaborating with each other, being prepared to work extra hours, ready to toil at dark or on off days, are some essential aspects that the locals taught the founders and others from the city.

What the locals got to learn from the management of SSEK?
The objective of empowering was obviously to impart new skills to the locals of Surwahi so that it could meaningfully impact their lives. Some examples –
a) Ecological Construction related techniques – till now the people here knew either of the traditional kutcha house made with mud and rice straws or the modern houses called the pucca house that is made from cement, burnt bricks, concrete and iron. At SSEK they were exposed to a third type of construction that makes use of local materials like mud mixed with lime, sieved sand, fly ash, and brick powder with minimal use of cement to make durable & strong houses. Constructions of this nature are more cost-effective and energy-effective than the normal pucca houses seen everywhere. This in itself was a big eye-opener for them while the concept of making round vault using locally procured cement, concrete, iron, scaffoldings and improvising structural designs were also highly appreciated by the community here.
b) Design Simplicity with Cost-effectiveness – They were amazed at the simplicity of the structures and designs that gelled so well with the backdrop of their own houses signifying minimalism. Their faith in their own surrounding was reinforced when locally sourced materials and recycled components were used to make cost-effective structures on the premises.

c) Digital Technology Oriented Learnings – This is one of the value add-ons of the entire process where workers were introduced to the concept of video calls, voice calls, WhatsApp calls, WhatsApp chats, comprehending PDF designs and drawings and viewing 3d renderings on their mobiles. They started to recognise markings made in Hindi and Hinglish too.

A note of thanks – The management is highly appreciative of the efforts put in by each and every artisan and staff for the realisation of the SSEK dream. A special word of thanks has been earmarked for Mr Narendra Patle, the master manager at Surwahi. He has been relentlessly working, day and night, for the last eight months, as the single point of contact for everyone involved in the project, riding on his Hero Honda bike from Mandla to Balaghat to ensure that the project completes on time. Narendra, of course, is one of the old-timers at Surwahi Social Ecoestate Kanha, being associated with the project for the last four years. He has been instrumental not only in getting the right-minded people from the local community to work on the project but also ensured that the conflicts between artisans are resolved amicably. The owners, in fact, are indebted towards his family too that put up at Sarekha village for letting Narendra focus completely on the SSEK project, be it day or night or midnight.