November 13, 2016
I recently returned from a trip to India and wanted to share some insight into the building techniques in an absolutely amazingly resourceful country
To my surprise, the nicest homes and hotels I have ever been in were in India, counterbalanced by small shacks with tin & rocks for roofs. My brain tried to make sense of this until I realized that it was probably impossible. This is a country that is complex and perhaps truly understanding was not going to be in the cards – it was more about experiencing and observing.
When I asked a very wise Indian woman why she loved India so much, she said, “Because there are no answers”. With that, it feels more respectful to the country and people to simply share my observations from the perspective of an American designer humbly visiting this fabulous country for two weeks.
India faces a challenge of extreme weather – from 115°F to 30°F and monsoon season between those extremes. This makes building a constant challenge. Primarily brick and concrete are used with a painted finish over the concrete. Intricate paintings and details are designed into the concrete walls for beautiful decoration.
ROOFLINES – pictured below left
Most of the roofs are flat so this photo was taken from
the concrete roof of my hotel – a remodeled palace which is typical for the area. From here we could see the “village” where our tuk-tuk drivers lived sandwiched between two taller more structures. Here you can see the drainage issues caused by these tall structures, the tin roofs with rocks on top to hold them down, a myriad of electrical lines and beautiful bougainvillea trees.
SCAFFOLDING – pictured above right
In the US, we don’t even think about scaffolding except for the fact that I don’t like walking underneath it. In India, it’s bamboo! No lie. Sold on the side of the road, you too can simply buy some bamboo sticks, put it on the back of your bike and start climbing up the side of a very tall structure.
WALLS – pictured below left
India is an ancient, pre-historic country. This means that many of the streets are narrow and the walls are old! Land is very expensive in the cities and building is relatively cheap so often structures are torn down and something new is built. But in the OLD part of towns it is crowded and new construction is difficult so repairs are more common. There can be hundreds of years of layers of walls. It is fascinating and intricate.
HOME DEPOT INDIAN STYLE – pictured above right
If you were wondering where one buys supplies, this is just one of many blocks of building supplies. Three glass suppliers are right next to each other and the shrewd businessmen negotiate prices with skill. You should have seen my tuk-tuk driver’s face when I tried to explain to him what a Home Depot is – actually, I don’t think he could imagine it – why could he?
EFFICIENT BUILDING TECHNIQUES
Yes, it was hot in October – very hot. But the buildings were often constructed in a way that kept the space cool and efficient. This old Step Well is a classic design of efficiency and one that would be difficult to replicate today. For better explanation of efficient building techniques, check out the article linked below.
I marveled at the resourcefulness and resilience of the people. There was construction all around us and yes, it was indeed slow and completely done by hand but there was literally no waste! Just because it is different, doesn’t mean that it is wrong.