The challenge before super structures

After going against nature in your building, don’t blame architecture or construction methods

Ecologically sensitive structures are much easier to build than we tend to think. Until a few centuries ago, what human beings built for shelter was a direct derivative from nature.

The early human beings built conical and pyramidal forms in thatch, after observing hills and ant hills, designed with the sloping edge along the angle of repose. The thicket in the forest had numerous tree trunks upholding large foliage above. No wonder people thought of vertical supports, holding up horizontal supports and roof material — the post and beam construction.

Earth forms such as caves led to discovering arches, vaults and domes. Sea and other shells suggested round huts and curved forms. Two tree branches inclined against each other stood strong, so people realised sloping roof was among the easiest that anyone could build. Materials of construction were visible to all, for they were left exposed. In all these examples begin the history of architecture and human settlements.

Knowing all the above, with much difficulty, we struggle to build against nature. Then we suffer heat and cold; rain and dust; cost and waste; cracks and repairs; looks and leaks, finally blaming architecture and construction.

We need not repeat primitive forms or design but may at least attempt applying the theory behind the preceding examples. Building wall over wall allows the weight to move down vertically, termed as designing for compression. With column and beam, negligible load gets transferred straight down, with most weights moving sideways to reach a column and then get transferred to ground. The load factor at unsupported parts create bending, hence demanding designing for tension.

Traditionally, people designed for compression, and such structures have been standing for centuries.

Both from cost and climate considerations, the walls and roofs, together termed as superstructure, play a major role. Fortunately, most research and application of alternative ideas have also happened in this direction. Let us look at them in the coming weeks.


Posted on June 12, 2010, in designs. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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