Many solutions for the roof
The new roofing technology is more advanced, but at some places the old practices are appropriate, and we need to blend the two.
Let us recollect our visits to villages and small towns, check out the kind of roofs we might have seen and compare them with the practice today. The idea of a monolith single material concrete roof we now know, is of recent origin. Traditionally, many building materials were put together to create the roof which then made sense because a range of local resources could be mobilised to get the best of roofing solutions. Clay plus wood for Mangalore tiles roof, steel plus bricks for Madras terrace, wood plus cudappah slab for stone roof, wooden beams plus planks for intermediate ceiling and such others that exist even today in our century-old houses and buildings amply prove their advantage, affordability and versatility.
Simplifying the roof
If we need to roof a room 18′ long and we find it difficult, what’s the common sense solution? We may place a wooden cross beam between the supports at every 3′, so effectively we need to roof six spans of 3′ each, which is much simpler. If only small stone slabs are available as roofing material, this could be reduced to 2′ each, by placing more of the cross beams. Of course the width of the room has to be limited to the available length of cross beams, say within 12′, which is fine with majority of residential activities. The space in between the beams or the narrowed span has to be now filled, using any of locally available appropriate materials.
In case the width is more, the simple cross beam has to be made stronger by triangular truss-like formations, provided with a central pillar support or wooden members replaced by steel sections. For buildings demanding larger indoor spaces, more advanced solutions need to be applied.
Technically, there is nothing wrong in this approach. However, advancing time discovered newer modes of roofing, based primarily on reinforced concrete and structural steel, as necessitated by the specifications of different projects.
Standards and codes
During the colonial and post-independence era, the building construction industry got formalised with standards and codes written, where certain practices were retained while the others were discouraged. Formal education, idea of textbooks and degree-based professionalism further damaged the image of local practices. Just like in medicine or folk wisdom, many effective solutions got sidelined, and today hundreds of time-tested design ideas get neither support nor promotion by the building industry.
If this narration sounds familiar, where the march of time leads to the new replacing the old, yes, it is a familiar story. If only the ‘new alone’ could have been our saviour, if all the modern ideas were to be ecologically sustainable and if the technical solutions of today are affordable by all – may be, we would not have sought any other option but modernity and high technology. The new roofing technology is more advanced, but at places the old practices are appropriate; as such we need to find ways of blending the past and present.