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close this bookJournal of the Network of African Countries on Local Building Materials and Technologies - Volume 4, Number 1 (HABITAT, 1996, 42 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe aim of the Network and its Journal
View the documentSecond United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) -''The City Summit'', Istanbul, Turkey. 3-14 June 1996
View the documentHabitat II and the Construction Sector
View the documentConstruction Sector For Housing And Infrastructure Delivery - An Issue Paper Prepared For The Habitat II Conference**
View the documentHabitat II - A Breakthrough for Non-governmental Organizations in Committee II of the Conference
View the documentHabitat II - Shelter-Afrique Launches a Continental Housing Investment Programme and Seeks to Expand Membership
View the documentCost - effective Building Technologies - Technology Transfer, Dissemination and Extension: The Indian experience***
View the documentHabitat II - Conference closes as Habitat Agenda is Adopted, UNCHS to be Strengthened as Implementing Agency
View the documentEvents
View the documentPublications Review
View the documentBack cover

Cost - effective Building Technologies - Technology Transfer, Dissemination and Extension: The Indian experience***

***This is an edited version of a paper produced by Mr. V. Suresh, Director Corporate Planning, Housing and Urban Development Corporation, (HUDCO), India. This paper was presented to one of the Habitat II parallel events: "Symposium on Construction for Housing and Infrastructure Delivery", organized by Settlement Infrastructure and Environmental Programme (SIEP) of UNCHS (Habitat). The symposium took place in Istanbul on 5 June 1996.


Construction costs in India are increasing at around 50 per cent over the average inflation levels. With inflation rates getting into double digits of around 10 per cent (April 1995), the construction costs have registered increase of up to 15 per cent over 1995, primarily due to cost of basic building materials such as steel, cement, bricks, timber and other inputs as well as cost of labour. As a result, the cost of construction using conventional building materials and construction forms range from Rs. 3000 to Rs. 4000 per sqm for housing. This is only in respect of the standard types of housing. Higher cost levels are registered for using better finishes and amenities. Construction cost of this order is beyond the affordability of the economically weak and low-income groups of population as well as a large cross section of the middle - income groups.

Therefore, there is a need to adopt cost-effective construction methods either by upgradation of traditional technologies using local resources or applying modern construction materials and techniques with efficient inputs leading to economic solutions.

This has become the most relevant aspect in the context of the large volume of housing to he constructed in both rural and urban areas and the consideration of limitations in the availability of resources such as building materials and finance.


Cost-effective building materials and construction technologies are fortunately available in India. These are developed by the various research and development bodies in the country, namely:

· Central Building Research Institute (CBRI),
· Structural Engineering Research Centre (SERC),
· Centre for Application of Science and Technology to Rural Areas (CASTRA),
· Regional Research Laboratories (RRL),
· National Environmental Engineering Research

Institute (NEERI), and many others. These technologies have proved to be appropriate and viable in the context of low-income housing delivery and a vast majority of population is using them in many regions of the country. A brief description of some of these technologies are given in the following parts of this paper.

2.1 Walling materials

The designs for housing units range from single to multi-stroyed, depending on the local situation (rural, urban and metropolitan) and the needs of target groups and the pressure on land. The materials used for walling can consist of:

· Mud
· Sun-dried bricks
· Rammed earth
· Stabilized soil blocks
· Kiln-burnt bricks
· Laterite/stone
· Timber/bamboo
· Stone block masonry
· Precast/factory-made walling units using light weight cellular concrete
· Concrete hollow blocks
· Ferro-cement

Mud, sun-dried bricks and rammed earth are used extensively in many regions depending on the availability and quality of exisiting soils. Stabilization of soil is done by stabilizers like cement, lime, asphalt, molasses. Laterite masonry blocks are available in Karnataka and Kerala. Stone mansory using dress stone and rubble is used in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu, Kashmir and many other places. With the strength of kiln-burnt bricks being of the order of 40 to 200 kg/ in Indo-Gangetic plain (Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bilhar and Bengal) it is possible to use single brick load-bearing walls of up to five storeys. Half brick thick zig-zag pattern load bearing walls are used in many housing projects of Uttar Pradesh. Adoption of "Modular" bricks can also effect savings in the use of brick and mortar.

Another very innovative area where cost reduction can be achieved is in the use of economical and innovative bonding systems using, for example, "rat trap bond" as against "English and/or Flemish bond". Over 25 per cent saving in bricks and mortar is achieved with proven structural strength and better thermal efficiency. The technology has not only proved to be useful and economical but also has resulted in aesthetical housing options.

Stone-block masonry is an R & D contribution using stone blocks and lime/cement mortar, made by semi-skilled labour. Its use is effectively demonstrated in HUDCO low-cost housing project in Ghaziabad, Alwar, Faridabad, Hyderabad and elsewhere.

In the North-eastern region, which is a seismically active region, the conventional system of timber, bamboo, mat-based wall system called "Ekra" walling is a traditionally popular and structurally sound walling system. With appropriate R & D inputs, it is possible to give plaster over cladding material with stretched wiremesh and appropriate frames of timber or reinforced cement concrete (RCC).

Factory made cellular concrete wall panels have been used at Madras, Pune, Bombay, Ahmedabad and Delhi. In situations where it is not possible to have access to masonry building blocks made of local materials, recourse has to be taken to manufacture masonry blocks. This could cover aerated light weight concrete blocks and hollow concrete masonry blocks.

Flyash which is a waste emanating from thermal power plants can be utilized with advantage for either flyash-based bricks or aerated light weight blocks. There are many modes of application of flyash using various technologies developed at CBRI and other research institutions in the country.

The hollow concrete block masonry can be used both as structural/non-structural elements. Large prefabricated panel units have been used in mass construction schemes. However, its application in the country has been limited mainly due to the limitations in lifting/erecting equipments as well as weaknesses in joints of wall to wall and roof to wall interaction locations.

Hollow concrete block masonry has been able to make a major impact lately, primarily because of the poor quality of burnt brick and also high cost of the local fuels namely timber and coal for burning kilns. In Bangalore, most of the houses constructed by co-operative societies, private builders are taking recourse to use hollow concrete block masonry for walling. Many of the building centres countrywide are also able to contribute to the increased use of hollow concrete blocks as willing material.

2.2 Roofing materials

Reinforced cement concrete (RCC) rooting slabs are predominantly used in many housing projects more so in the urban context. But the use of the many economic alternatives can play a major role in large housing projects. The various alternative systems that can he used are:

· Clay/micro-concrete tiled roofing with insulation over timber/ferrocement rafters
· Stone roofing with distributors
· Terraces with insulation - Madras Terrace
· Corrugated sheet: asbestos, galvanized iron (GI) and asphaltic
· Prefabricated brick panel
· 'L'panel roofing
· Filler slab roofing with various filler material
· Clay tile - RCC batten root
· Precast cellular concrete roofing unit (celcon roof)
· RCC channel units
· Precast joist and hollow block construction
· Precast RCC solid planks/joists
· Funicular shells over edge beams
· Precast plate floors
· Ferrocement roofing elements
· Filler slab roofing with various filler material

Using prefabricated roofing elements, large-scale housing projects can be constructed economically. There are many successful applications of these systems in different parts of the country.

2.3 Doors and windows

Timber is used for door and window frames and shutters and also for structural and non-structural walling and roofing units in different parts of the country. With a view to effect the economic use of timber and also conserve the primary species of timber, use of secondary species of timber has been resorted to by giving appropriate seasoning and chemical treatment before use. However, time has come to look for alternatives to timber. The use of steel shaped frames as well as precast concrete and magnesium oxychloride cement door and window frames is becoming increasingly popular. Precast concrete door/window frames are competitive in cost and function and do not need repetitive maintenance.

Concrete is being spread over a durable roof. Courtesy HUDCO. India

The precast concrete door and window frames have got considerable acceptance both by the public and private house builders. The latest contribution is the use of ferro cement doors based on the initiative of the Auroville Building Centre at Pondicherry. In view of the scarcity and high cost of timber, the need for replacing timber with alternates has become a necessity. Therefore, the use of precast door and window frames as well as ferrocement shutters are gaining considerable momentum in the housing scenario in the country. Use of precast hollow decorative blocks has also become very popular mainly through the work of building centres as well as private sector entrepreneurs. With regard to door shutters, the use of alternatives like cement bonded particle boards, bamboo boards are becoming popular in many regions.

2.4 Other elements

The scope for the use of precast elements is coming into sharp focus for areas of application such as:

· Thin precast lintels
· Thin ferrocement precast shelves
· Ferrocement based sanitation units/cladding
· Ferrocement water tanks
· Precast well rings for water wells
· Precast sanitation unit rings
· Precast septic tanks
· Ferrocement bio-gas units
· Precast jalousies
· Precast poles for street lighting
· Precast posts for boundary walls

The use of ferro cement water tank has become very popular in the last one decade in and around Madras and Tamil Nadu based on the good work being done by SERC and the training now being imparted to the large number of masons, bar-benders and concrete work force. Similarly the use of precast well rings for water well has also caught up because of their popularity and the fact that they are manufactured by private sector outlets as well as through the building centres. This has become very important because of the need for pumping ground water in the areas where surface water is scarce.

The sanitation schemes using twin pits is also giving rise to the manufacture of the rings for sanitation. A major programme on low-cost sanitation has been launched by the Government and it is hoped that the precast sanitation rings would contribute substantially in this direction. The precast poles for the street lighting has become increasingly popular for the land development as well as electricity boards due to scarcity of timber poles and also the exorbitant cost of the same. Even metallic telephone poles are being often replaced with precast concrete poles.


Despite considerable efforts made by the Government and relevant institutions, the technologies developed by various R & D bodies have, often remained at laboratory level and very limited exposure to these positive achievements have been made at field level.

In a bid to overcome this limitation, an institutional mechanism was set up in 1986 to strengthen the local capacities so as to enable them to absorb and implement the successful R & D findings in low-income housing construction. To this effect the Nirmithi Kendra (Building Centre) was established in August, 1986 in Quilon (Kollam). The Quilon Building Centre has played a very crucial role in ensuring appropriate technology transfer to field through proper training of artisans in production of building materials and application of appropriate construction techniques in many housing and building projects. The successful results achieved by this Centre has now blossomed into National Programme of Network of Building Centres.

Considering the potential of the grassroots-level technology transfer through an institutional mechanism, the Government of India decided to launch a national programme for setting up building centres in all districts of India. The programme was cleared by the Finance Minister in the budget proposals on 29th February 1988 through the following statement:

"There is a great scope for using local low-cost materials in housing. Our scientists and engineers have also developed considerable experience in low-cost housing technology. It has been decided to set up a national network of Nirman Kendras or Nirmithi Kendras which will provide easy access to low-cost housing materials and techniques. It is proposed to set up one Kendra in each district. In the coming year, 100 Kendras will be setup".

The building centres essentially serve the following five areas of work:

(a) Technology transfer from 'lab' to 'land' by disseminating information on cost - effective technologies in urban and rural areas;

(b) Skill upgradation and training of masons, artisans, carpenters, other building related work force including professionals and entrepreneurs in various cost-effective building materials production techniques and construction systems;

(c) Manufacturing/production of cost-effective building materials/components based on local, natural or waste resources and providing sales outlets for the various user groups;

(d) Creating a pool of trained rural/urban construction workforce and meet the diverse needs of housing and building construction and other developmental activities undertaken by individual households or public housing/development agencies utilizing appropriate and cost-effective building technologies;

(e) Providing guidance, information and counselling on housing and building construction matters.

3.1 Organizational set-up

In the initial years, building centres have been established with district administration-driven model where the initiative was to come primarily from the district collector and district administration. However, during the evolutionary stages in the last five years, the building centres are being established under various leadership models as given below:

(i) by state Government, district administration, local bodies, block development offices, rural development agencies;

(ii) by the state/central housing agencies/undertakings;

(iii) by the research and development institutions;

(iv) by educational, training, management organizations engaged in teaching, skill/entrepreneurship development in the areas of housing, building and construction;

(v) by non-governmental organizations, voluntary bodies and charitable trust societies;

(vi) by professionals, developers, builders and entrepreneurs individually or collectively;

(vii) by construction workers' cooperatives, contractors/builders' associations, cooperative housing societies.

It is hoped that the above flexibility of establishing and operationalising building centres through flexible leadership would substantially help in giving the right level of autonomy and operational effectiveness.

HUDCO has been entrusted with the nodal role of establishment of National Network of Building Centres by the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India. HUDCO has formulated an Action Plan Manual identifying the various administrative, technical, financial, organisational and management requirements for the establishment of building centres in respect of:

· the institutional set up and requirements for running the centres;

· land for putting up the building centres;

· the building required for the centre with adequate rooms, building materials storage spaces and offices for personnel;

· identification of tools, equipment and other machinery to have them on stock;

· training requirements.

As far as financial inputs are concerned, initial funds are made available by the Government of India through grant assistance for building, equipments, machinery, tools and also training. covering cost of trainer and trainees. So far an amount of Rs. 200,000 has been made available for each centre covering Rs. 50,000 for building, Rs. 50,000 for equipments, machineries and tools and Rs. 100,000 for training support on behalf of the Ministry of Urban Development and administered by Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO). Some of the state governments/housing agencies/development authorities have also made contributions in form of grant assistance for the development of building centres in their respective districts.

Following the initial results achieved by building centres, a review was carried out by an expert panel on behalf of the Government of India. The expert group had noted that while the Building Centre Movement has caught up well in some states, it has not taken roots in many other states. With a view to making the Building Centre Movement spread its activities on a nation-wide basis in all states, the expert group had come forward with many recommendations. One of the recommendations has been to increase the grant assistance form the present Rs. 200,000 to Rs. 500,000 for each centre. This would cover land and development assistance as well as for covering the costs for running the centres.

The breakdown of the proposed financial requirement of each centre is given in the table below:










Equipment, machinery and tools






Overhead, such as water, electricity connection, etc.






3.2 External assistance

The German Credit Bank for Reconstruction (KFW) has decided to provide assistance for the expansion and improvement of the operations of building centres with a grant-in-aid of up to Rs. 1,000,000 for land and development, building, equipments, etc. It is, therefore, possible to dovetail the funds available from the Government of India and KFW and allocate larger starter corpus of funds for building centres. It would also help in making the building centres economically and financially viable with this type of support. The KFW support of DM 10 million would give supplementary financial support to 200 building centres.

The work of building centres can also be attached to the district development programmes where substantial amount of integrated projects are implemented. The uniqueness of the programmes is the integration of the district development activities and dovetailing these with the building centre activities, so that the trained construction workforce can be deployed in housing and other building construction activities taking place in the district.

In addition, certain supplementary R & D grant is made available by HUDCO for demonstration of technologies as well as establishing testing facilities/equipment for enhancing quality control.

Furthermore, additional soft loan assistance is also made available by HUDCO for the capacity building programmes for building centres. The loan assistance covers costs of additional machinery/equipment as well as working capital needs.

3.3 Training programme

Training is given to the local workers to familiarize them with conventional/innovative technologies. Training in building centres is given for three categories of workers: skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled. The training duration differs for different categories:

(a) For skilled masons/carpenters/bar-benders: 2 to 3 months training on upgrading skills in the field of new technology and alternative building materials production and use.

(b) For semi-skilled work force the training period is 4 months.

(c) For unskilled and unemployed rural youths, the training period is 6 months. In this period an indepth training will be given to them on various conventional and new technologies and alternative products.

The ideal age group for trainees are:

Skilled labourers

- 30 to 40 years

Semi-skilled labourers

- 20 to 35 years

Unskilled labourers

- 15 to 20 years

3.4 Professionals

In-service professionals of various construction departments also need substantial exposure on the availability of the alternative technologies and the application methods. For the professionals of various construction departments both at state and central levels, it is necessary that appropriate orientation programmes are organized. These could be for three weeks to one month for mid-level executives and executive engineers and may be a week for superintendent engineers and above.

3.5 Progress

During the last six years of operation, the Building Centre Movement has got off fairly well and substantial amount of progress has been made for identifying locations for setting up building centres, including organizational set up, land allocations and administrative approvals for inclusion in the National Network of Building Centres. Currently the Network has expanded to over 375 centres in different pans of the country.

The latest position of progress as on April 1995 is given below:



Building centres identified



Organizational set up constituted



Land allotted



Administrative approval accorded for inclusion in National Network of Building Centres


As a result of the success of the Building Centre Movement achieved so far, several new initiatives are coming up, namely the establishment of state level building centres/nodal agencies to coordinate, guide, assist in the work of building centres. Appropriate linkages for technology adoption, preparation of technical literature in curriculum are also considered to be an important activity of the building centres. Furthermore, there are some additional initiatives taken to establish building centres so as to take care of the needs of rural areas. For disseminating technologies in remote areas, the concept of mobile building centres are also promoted (Nirmithi Vahini). As part of HUDCO's Silver Jubilee initiatives, 4 Nirmathi Vahini have been commissioned for Kesnik, Auroville, Verllore and Candhigram building centres.

Another significant area where the building centres are able to play a role is in imparting the right level of practical training to the professional architects, engineers and diploma holders for contributing their skills and capacities in actual implementation of projects, using various technologies. Students of architecture and engineering in architectural schools and engineering colleges are also increasingly getting exposed to the new technologies. Till now, very limited exposure has been given to these areas in the professional colleges. This has been felt as a typical gap in the educational curriculum. Attachment of students to the building centres for practical field exposure and hands-on training have contributed significantly in these efforts.

The Building Centre Movement has been able to provide training for over 41,000 construction workers over the last five years on many cost-effective and innovative technologies and techniques of construction.

It has also been able to take up the construction work for houses/buildings with the lowest cost in different parts of the country. These cover the houses for all categories of government housing agencies, cooperatives, individuals, and social and community amenities such as schools, primary health centres, office building, commercial complexes, industrial estates, tourism complex buildings, recreational buildings, kiosks, bus shelters, water supply tanks, solid waste collectors, etc, thus demonstrating that cost effective technologies have equal levels of application from the weaker sections to high income housing as well as public buildings.

Experience has shown that buildings constructed through building centres interventions, have been 15 to 40 per cent cheaper than conventional and traditional methods, depending upon the combination of technology adopted in a specific application and materials used in the construction process.

The Building Centre Movement of India has brought in national, regional and international acclaim as an appropriate grassroots level intervention for technology transfer and housing delivery.

This movement has found acceptance as a model with all its potential for appropriate replication, adaption and adoption by various countries in various locations, depending upon the regional needs. The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) in a bid to acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of HUDCO, awarded in 1991 the Habitat Scroll of Honour to HUDCO "for innovation, development and promotion of building materials, design and construction, for affordable housing for the poor and training in construction skills".

Many developing countries in Asia and Africa have shown great interest and initiatives to replicate the Indian building centre model in their countries.

3.6 Extension and propagation

While taking stock of the initiatives of technology transfer through the Network of Building Centres and through the introduction in high-visibility public projects, the following additional areas require attention and consideration:

(a) Propagation through the building technology exposition and housing guidance centre

There is need for extending the results of research and development in building technologies to suite the needs of individual and group home builders, professionals and others through the permanent "building technology exposition" and "housing guidance centre" in all state capitals. These should be similar to the one set up in the HUDCO southern zonal office at Madras. These should be open throughout the year for the general public to visit and familiarize with the building technologies. Such permanent expositions should be put up by state housing agencies/HUDCO/BMTPC and other agencies on a continuing basis in all state capitals and over a period of time in all other cities/towns.

(b) Upgrading educational curriculum of architectural and engineering courses

The curriculum of the courses offered at architectural and engineering schools should be upgraded so as to train the students on innovative and appropriate technologies for housing constructions.

In addition, it is also desirable to give at least six months to one year practical training to students on actual field situations as part of the educational curriculum, before degree is awarded.

(c) Standardization validity through the codes and standards

Since most of the existing handbooks, manuals as well as codes and standards do not have coverage on most of the innovative building materials and technologies, speedy and time-bound action need to be taken for providing these technologies in these important regulatory documents. This is also linked with the countries standardization efforts for introduction of innovative technologies/materials/techniques of construction in Indian Code design and construction standards. Till such time, appropriate technology brochures/hand outs published by BMTPC/HUDCO/R & D/other agencies of central and state construction departments could be used as transitional and provisional standards.

(d) R & D fund

With a view to popularize various new technologies and also for building confidence among professionals, an R & D fund or risk fund to the extent of 1 to 2 per cent of the cost of the construction could be created so that in case of any damage, as a result of introduction of any new technology, the funds available in the R & D fund could compensate it. This is important because many practising professionals are unwilling to use some of the cost-effective technologies due to fear of later problems, which could affect their future career prospects. HUDCO's R & D support for various initiatives in this connection may be considered as a source of encouragement.

(e) Dissemination through audio-visuals and other means

It is necessary that new technologies are given appropriate projection using the media and audio-visual means. This would help give appropriate information on the right type of materials and technologies. Dissemination of information through media could be particularly helpful in small town and sub-urban areas where people have access to radio and TV.

(f) Building material estates and markets

With a view to encourage entrepreneurs to come forward for the manufacture of various low-cost building materials and technologies, State Governments may set up building material estates and also appropriate building material component sales outlet centres through the building material markets.

(g) A special thrust for utilization of agricultural and industrial wastes

With a view to encourage the building materials industry to utilize agricultural and industrial wastes as a 'waste to health' or 'refuse to resource' strategy. Government should come forward and give all possible incentives for such initiatives. These may include exemption of customs duty/excise duty as well as sales tax and other charges. Furthermore, the financial institutions should also support initiatives for using agro/industrial residues in the production of building materials through equity support loan, etc.

(h) Recognition by housing finance institutions (HFIs)

It is a common perception that large number of housing finance institutions (with the exemption of HUDCO) do not encourage introduction of various cost-effective building materials and technologies for housing projects and as a result, loans are not given easily. It is necessary that a folio is made available to the HFIs, so that when they sanction individual loans, the same does not get held up due to introduction of these technologies. A special training programme recently organized by one of the HFIs has brought to focus the need for such a step.


There is an array of technology options available for various elements of building construction, leading to cost-effectiveness and at the same time not effecting the performance characteristics expected from a decent house. It is desirable to have increased understanding of the various materials and technology options, its structural and functional characteristics and efficiencies and more importantly the methodologies for implementation. Series of follow-up measures to enable application of the same would need to be taken. These would cover work related to regulatory measures, organizational development needs and also technology transfer mechanisms evolved. This would play a major role in ensuring the adoption of appropriate and cost-effective technologies in housing and building construction scene, which is one of the vital inputs to make affordable and acceptable housing a reality for the vast majority of low-income people in the country.

A construction site in India, Courtesy HUDCO, India