The neglected lintels
Continuous RCC lintels have gained popularity, nearly wiping out other solutions
Native wisdom: In a wall with exposed materials, designing the lintel aesthetically is important
Construction practices have been handed over to us from millions of years with millions of methods. This maze offers no help to us in picking the best practices for today. As such, we build today in a bewildering variety and how we build continues the past ideas rather randomly. Imagine a rich kid with thousands of toys, all of which are good for playing. What the child chooses to play with, discard, safeguard or reject is beyond any logic of theory – it is determined only by the child at that moment.
Such a vast constructed precedence enables justifying whatever we do. Lintels are an apt example of this state of confusion, where we blindly follow some past procedure. Most builders give it no thought; hence they are more like a neglected cousin among all wall practices. Only a logical structural engineer and a contextual architect can together question the idea of lintel or design the right kind of lintel beam.
Lintel is a short beam in wood or steel or concrete placed above an opening in the wall, to support the triangular part of wall above it.
It may appear not related to the discourse of green architecture, but it does contribute by being cost effective, following a judicious design. In a wall proposed to be plastered, lintels become invisible after the finishing, but if it is all exposed materials, designing the lintel aesthetically becomes very important.
The recent practice in Bangalore has been to cast the so-called continuous RCC lintel all over the wall at 7′ height, irrespective of the location of openings. In the name of strength, it made beams too frequent; if plinth and roof beams are also around, shooting the construction cost upwards. In the name of tying all the columns, it contributed to frame construction, often unnecessarily. Such intermediate beams also covered up possible weak masonry or low construction quality. To cap it all, it made the life of consultants easy, simply to repeat it in all buildings, without any specific designing and drawing, at the cost of owners. Thus, the continuous RCC lintels gained popularity, nearly wiping out other local and creative solutions.
Can we avoid lintels all together? Yes, if all doors and windows are taken up to roof bottom. We will discuss these tall openings during the forthcoming essays. If the windows are placed first, then casting a formal RCC lintel can be replaced by other on-site solutions.
Can the lintels be discontinuous? Can we conceal them within stone or brick walls? Are there options outside concrete? Let us brood over such queries to get right answers.