Building on old ideas with new methods
If the validity of architectural ideas has not changed, we should not discontinue them, but do them in a new way.
There is a common behavioural pattern among all of us: we get excited by anything new. It could be cooking a new recipe or buying a new gadget; travelling to a new place or seeing a new film.
The idea of new has been among the greatest attractions for us, especially in these modern times, when every other thing around us is changing.
It is difficult to prove that this idea of new is innate to all biological beings, considering how all other animals live by. Their needs do not change nor do they seek the new. If so, where does our appetite for the novelty originate? Could it be due to cultural practices, commercialised attitudes or market economy? This larger sociological question becomes important to understand how to place an alternative architectural idea.
Accordingly, new products are being manufactured at a maddening pace, to satisfy our desires. Design ideas are not an exception either, where everyone tries to do what others have not done, as if we need to outwit the fellow humans. If everything about a thing is new – idea, purpose, material, making and technology – we appear to rejoice, but soon realise how short lived it is. So the race goes on.
One way to see newer thoughts take shape is by doing things that our elders did, but using new materials or technology.
Doing a dome is an apt example where the famed Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy rediscovered and popularised a new way of constructing a masonry dome, based on traditional ideas and methods.
Normally, dome construction demands much work in centering and formwork, as such does not become viable.
In this technology, there is no formwork support which gets replaced by a pivot rod to guide the location of each course work.
Each brick course is laid normal to the pivot which represents the radius of the hemispherical, so all courses are aligned to the centre point of the dome.
In the lower courses, bricks stay put firmly, but as we go up to the higher courses, there is the danger of them falling inwards. Hence brick counter-weights tied to a thread are wrapped around the top course to hold them in position till they get set. Ideally, only one course is laid everyday with cement or preferably mud mortar, with appropriate composition. The topmost opening can be left as a skylight or be filled with bricks closely packed to provide the arch action for load transfer.
The point here is not that we all should build domes, but that we can re-do what has been done in the past in newer ways.
Hundreds of eco-friendly and green ideas already proven have been discarded on the pretext of changed times.
If the validity of these proven ideas has not changed, we should not discontinue them, but do them in a new way.