Always go for short and concealed lintels
Every era brings in a new wave of thinking and, with age, a new architecture is born. Concepts such as lintels and their design, for example.
How often do we observe the house where our parents lived? What kind of lintel do we see there? By any chance, do we live in a house built 30 or 40 years ago? When we return to such old houses, we notice, there often was no monolith lintel beam concept.
The window frame would be placed in position, then the bricks would be carefully placed above the frame with equal projection on both sides, to start the remaining part of the wall. Here the bricks tightly joined between the void, would act like horizontal means of load transfer, while a smaller part of the weight would be taken care of by the window frame. This concept can be further developed into what is called as flat arch lintels, which unfortunately is not very popular today. Instead of this bricks base layer, there could be a wood piece in some cases. During later years, the trend of casting a RCC lintel after the frame placement also started.
However, there never were anything like lintel member running all along the house, yet these buildings have been with us for centuries. Having said this, let us also agree there are many advantages of continuous RCC lintels. The only plea here is to think if such lintels are judiciously required or not.
Lintels are needed for sure above any and every opening, be it a door, window or wall niche. When we provide them only above such openings, it is called as cut lintel system. They are short in length with adequate bearing on the wall at their ends, and can be managed with minimum reinforcement. To save time, often they are cast on ground, to be lifted up once the walls are ready. Such pre-cast RCC units also save on centering and concreting labour. Cut lintels may not offer any quake resistance, and as such need to be evaluated against all other criteria.
Another popular approach is to merge the lintel with the wall material. Exposed brick walls may look nice with the plastered RCC band, yet they can also be built without the lintel being visible. The outer edge would have a brick, with the thin lintel behind. If it is a hollow clay block, the concrete can be filled within the hollow of the block, creating beam-like support. There have been experiments where hollow blocks have been cast into a monolith beam by inserting reinforcement bars into them. Such walls, with the chajja or the sunshade above the window, tend to look very neat with the aesthetics of single material.