The forgotten roofs
This system with wooden cross beams does not need centering, allows faster construction and demands less structural skills.
Can the way generations before us lived for thousands of years be continued today? If some ideas are extinct today, where did they err? Do they have any future at all, or are they better forgotten? Before we go into this debate, let us look at some of the past practices, now less used and on the decline.
If we walk into any typical village, we routinely see houses where the roofs have closely placed wooden beams, often as close as six inches, which have wooden twigs and short branches above them, running in the opposite direction. There could be some dried leaves visible above them, or it could directly be a layer of mud mix. These houses were built with minimal cost, often termed as kutcha and face fire, rodents and such other problems. Alternatively the wooden cross beams could be topped with a piece of burnt flat clay tile. The tile layer gets a mud layer on top with the final floor finish.
Where ample quantity of construction timber is available, we see wooden cross beams at a wider span, say 1 to 2 ft. wide, which support a layer of min. 1.5 inch thick wood plank on top. In most houses, a thin layer of lime concrete could be seen above this, finally finished with red oxide floor. Mud flooring mix could also be used above the mud planks, in low termite prone areas. This wood beam concept comes with different variations, among the popular ones in many Sates being stone slabs replacing wood planks as the base of floor material. Any good local stone could be used for this purpose, though stone slabs have defect lines depending upon their material composition, hence are liable for cracking.
This system with wooden cross beams does not need centering, allows a faster construction and demands less of structural skills. These roofs are local by nature, hence more eco-friendly and sustainable. On the negative side, we may list the difficulties of electrification, and feasibility of base materials such as wood or cuddapah. However, this system could be revised by replacing wooden cross beams with steel joists and the sub-floor base by flat hollow clay hourdi blocks or granite or RCC slab precast at site.
When a construction idea popular for centuries loses out, mostly it happens for no mistake of the idea. People may make a mistake in implementing a construction element, but that does not mean the idea is wrong and needs to be discarded. However, if seemingly better ideas get introduced, the earlier systems become less desirable. Most traditional vernacular roofing ideas are still valid and in case newer, better ideas are not possible in the given site, can be replicated.
To that extent, it is advisable to do research on our past architecture and ready them for modern applications.