Modern Architecture Can’t Cope with Tradition

In Gairsen, Uttarakhand modern construction has people’s lives at risk.

Uttarakhand is one of the most seismically active parts of India. Traditional masons had mastered the art of building houses that were resistant to seismic activity. Today, sadly, such houses are a rarity.

Traditionally houses in Uttarakhand were built according to the Koni Banal style of architecture which uses stone filled platforms and judicious use of wood and timber. This helped the houses withstand earthquakes, landslides and other natural disasters. This made for a tensile system made with the usage of flexible materials. This offered special advantages over other materials during earthquakes, landslides and other natural disasters. However, it would be incorrect to say that these houses survived solely due to the materials used, the construction techniques too played a crucial role.

The 900-year-old style of architecture has survived both the Kumaon earthquake of 1720 and the Garhwal earthquake of 1803, both of which destroyed other houses in this region. Even during the 1991 earthquake, the traditionally built timber houses proved to be the most effective at keeping damage at bay.

Through three years this system has been replaced by the use of cement, concrete and bricks.  Most new constructions with heavy roofs supported by weak walls can prove deadly whereas traditional houses at higher elevations used to have timber roofs held together by timber, tie-bands, horizontal timber beams spanning across the entire building, connecting the entire structure and giving it the character of a cage. Such masonry ensured little damage despite the mud and stone masonry due to the technique by which they were built.

A report by the Remote Sensing Department of the Uttar Pradesh Directorate of Science and Technology maps 80 rural and urban spots of occupation that are prone to high levels of damage. Out of these, 33 areas have huge building that can cause damage even in the case of small earthquakes. Taking this as a red flag, the construction of houses using incorrect techniques must be brought to a halt and the traditional techniques should be restored.

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