Vanishing skills

Why are seemingly unsustainable practices of today more dominating, while the eco-friendly practices of yesterday are forgotten? 

Those who have commissioned a building project possess a special knowledge that the others do not. Simply stated, it is the awareness that getting a building, specially a house built, is easier said than done! More importantly, it is learning about the need to simplify every construction procedure, of course without compromising on design or quality. To this end, roof being among the more complex part of building construction, has seen more research than other component parts, with much that could be written about roofs.

Yet, nearly everywhere we see flat RCC plastered and painted roof slabs today. Quite naturally, there are reader enquiries wondering why discuss domes or vaults and who can build them after all! Every alternative idea has limitations in terms of quantity or popularity, lest it too would have been the mainstream activity. Some of the roof alternatives we are discussing are actually not mere alternatives, but time-tested ideas practised for thousands of years.

The only challenge then is to simply revive them. May be, as much as discussing the idea, we also need to discuss why these proven ideas have lost their edge, to understand why seemingly unsustainable practices of today are dominating, while the eco-friendly practices of yesterday are forgotten.

Among the major issues that we are confronting today is lowering skill levels. It is not so much because people are no more capable, but because people are not being employed for specific tasks, hence lose out on the practice so essentially required in construction industry. We the professionals then blame the construction scene saying we no more get good carpenters! If prefabricated windows replace wooden windows; if steel shuttering replaces wood plank shuttering; if ready-made kitchens replace hand-made kitchens; and then if carpenters cannot get a full month earning, who is to be blamed?

With reduced employment opportunities, the younger generations ignore specific tasks such as carpentry. In masonry category, building arches and domes are among the major casualties, but more dangerously, nowadays we keep hearing about bad brick walls because the young masons do not know how to build a wall. If these rumours become a reality someday, that will be the end of good buildings in Indian cities.

Implications

What are the implications of this impending doom? Quality assurance by factory manufacturing overrides quality by human skill perfection. Manufacturing, despite benefits including economics, speed, delivery and good finish, leads to many traps such as energy consumption, low recyclability, and unequal wealth distribution. While a certain degree of manufacturing is essential towards a basic building, construction industry mainly relying upon produced, branded, transported and site supplied chain of materials could be disastrous.

It may not lead to a sustainable future with the construction sector already adding more than one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, and specifically in Indian contexts, where we need to employ and feed millions of people. As such, all alternative and eco-friendly ideas need to be welcomed today.

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Posted on October 15, 2011, in designs, fundamentals and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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