Alternative Rural Construction Technologies in North East India

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QUESTION:Is there a need to introduce new or alternative technologies in North East rural construction?

The North Eastern part of India has always been a fascinating area for travellers and explorers. The rich heritage is exemplified through the ethnicity, tradition, livelihood, and also by the architectural typologies. Several distinct architectural features are seen in North East states, which differ by climate and deep rooted traditions. The architecture of this area evolved in course of time and were mostly built by the inhabitants themselves, without any training in construction. Yet, due to continuous involvement in the field of construction, they eventually came to know about the different perimeters considered in designing a house, which can be seen or understood through their habitats. These houses, built with locally available materials, were sensitive to the existing environment and took into consideration the constraints imposed by the climate.

These areas are able to provide its habitat with the construction needs, but due to the lack of knowledge/awareness, “there are varieties of issues such as building materials, construction techniques, attitude to change in living environment, and the economic capacity to sustain improvement” (Rao D.V.R. (cited in Oakley D. 1965)). In order to utilize these available resources most efficiently, is it necessary to promote the use of new building materials and construction techniques. Extension of energy and cost effective building materials, utilization of agricultural by-products/wastes as well as locally available materials, cheaper and time saving construction techniques and efficient house plans at affordable cost, may have a great significance in the present rural scenario.

This paper aims at the study of vernacular architecture of the North East rural area in general and Manipur traditional/ rural architecture in particular. Note the pros and cons of the present construction scenarios, and analyse whether there is a need for improving the same, to make a more efficient habitats through alternative technologies/ resources to make a more efficient houses.

What does Alternative rural construction technologies means?


“One or more things available as another possibility or choice” (Oxford dictionaries (n.d.) suggest that…)


“In, relating to, or characteristic of the countryside” (Oxford dictionaries (n.d.) suggest that…), the hill areas of North East India in this case.


“The action of building something” (Oxford dictionaries (n.d.) suggest that…)


“The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes” (Oxford dictionaries (n.d.) suggest that…).

Thus, it means another possibility/choice in rural construction, with the application of using scientific knowledge.

Alternative rural construction technologies aims at finding a) if there is a problem in the resources available in the North East India and b) whether there is a way/ need for improving them. It aims at studying/ analysing the rural part of the North East area, which is the hill area, having similar climatic conditions, geography, resources, etc.

It is stated that; Ever since man become settler, he experiment various natural resources for building a shelter. Certain materials become the principle building materials and are continued to be used in construction, some of them in its original form while some after treatment or by-product of nature. But, due to scarcity of the resources, unavailability on site, lack of knowledge for utilizing the avail materials and various other reasons, needs for invention of new materials arise. Some of them, even though commonly used in construction and reliable materials, are scarce or a threat to nature. Thus, utilizing the natural resources and using them in a more efficient way needs to be prioritized rather than relying on imported materials/ technologies. (Anubha et al. 1990).

C:\Users\LianBased on a case study: Let’s look at the North east area as a whole and see, what the conditions of building construction are, the pros and cons of the present scenario. Given here is the plan of a 35 sq.m. Mud house, (Fig.1), which is divided into two rooms 1) The bed room and 2) The hall which has all the other indoor functions and 3) All other activities like, toilet, bathing, preparing food for livestock, washing utensils, etc. happens outdoor. It was stated that; issues in this scenarios are, shelter while doing the outdoor activities (Mr Kham 2014, pers.comm. 16 July). It was also found through observation that, there is insufficient light and air movement in the house (Author).

Fig.1 (source: author)

Planning or designing of a rural house is more complex and difficult when compared to the ones in the urban context, as it usually has to cope not only for the family/owner but with their livestock too. There is also usually a need for covered space outside the house for all sorts of occupations, weaving, basket making, nets and fishing, food drying and processing etc. (Baker Laurie (n.d.)). Since many of the residences if not all are usually farmers, the open space around the house is as important as the house itself, as it is very much in use for cooking, storing, animal, poultry etc., it is rather the unbuilt extension of the house itself. These important activities happens in the open/unbuilt area which creates an issues during different times of the year like the rainy, extreme summer and winter seasons, etc. (Mr Kham 2014, pers.comm. 16 July). So, basic plans which aims at minimizing and accommodate their primary needs within the build form and can expanding with the increase in family, as and when need arise is required.

The rural areas have many advantages over the urban, as far as construction is concern. But due to lack of knowledge, the advantages of this area has not been utilized, the way it should have been. “The problems of shortage of adequate and durable house and shortage of skilled manpower are the foremost challenges in the way of improving quality of life of villagers” as shown in the report (central building research institute, Roorkee 2009-10), it further state that, the rural areas in India as a whole experience inadequate scientific support or rather expose to the technology in the use of local materials and skills, which they are supposed to, from the central government schemes, to make a reasonable houses, not just in terms of utilization of materials and skills for efficiently. But also to be able to make for themselves, safe and healthy house which will improve housing and living conditions.

There is also a need for extension of energy and cost effective building, through the utilization of agro-industrial by-products/wastes as well as locally available raw materials, cheaper and time saving building construction techniques and efficient house plans at affordable cost meeting the minimum basic requirements of the users (central building research institute, Roorkee 2009-10).

It is also important to know the fact that, the decision to create a building is the decision to destroy some part of the material universe, to compromise on nature. The attempt to improve our dwellings by destructing the nature is technological. Every technological act entails changes in two major relations: 1) between the human to the non-human world, and 2) within the world of the people itself. Technology required the sacrifice of extant materials that ultimately do not owe their presence to human beings. It is important to make ecological balance, this only comes with the scientific knowledge and practical application, which is lacking in the rural construction. Thus, in order to wisely utilizing what Mother Nature gave us, and give back to it what we can through various ways, it is wise to note the statement (Brundtland (1987)); Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations to meet their own needs. This definition of Brundtland contains within it two key concepts: the concept of needs, to which overriding priority should be given and the concept of limitations, to meet the present and future needs.

One needs to choose materials for construction considering the following points (Bhutan green building guideline: Draft No.3, 2013 p.37)-

•They should be locally available.

•Preference should be given to materials of low embodied energy.

•Minimum carbon footprint materials.

•Biodegradable and renewable materials.

•They should have long life and durable, and

•Materials should be reusable and recyclable.

Selection of the appropriate materials for construction, will only come if the one who is supposed to build is equipped with the right information and knowledge needed for designing the appropriate habitat for a particular geography, climate, and various other perimeters.

The main concern, whether there is a need to look for alternative construction technologies lies in the various reasons-

  • Scarcity of resources,
  • Some, commonly used and reliable materials but are a threat to nature and needs to be replaced,
  • Is the present dwellings or material used, not able to cope up with the ever changing climate?
  • The needs to educate and skilled manpower (in this case, the owner themselves) to enhance productivity and utilize materials more efficiently.

CONCLUSION:Alternative rural construction technologies not only aims at finding reasons/ the needs to improve the available materials, but most importantly it also aims at finding reasons whether the traditional/ vernacular construction technology suites the present climatic conditions, geography, etc. Is there a need to develop on the existing houses, to make it more efficient? This can be achieved through further study and analysis.


  1. Rao D.V.R (cited in Oakley D, The Rural Habitat, (1965))
  2. Definitions; Alternative, rural, construction and technologies. Viewed July 31 2014, <>
  3. Anubha, Barun, Belal, Kartik, Kaushik, Nitin, et al. 1990, Clay Products Manufacture, Clay projects III yr. B.Arch. SPA Delhi.
  4. Photos: Fig. 1 (author).
  5. Bakers Laurie, Rural House Plans. (n.d.)
  6. Central building research institute Roorkee 2009-10, Training on Appropriate rural housing technologies.
  7. Definition; Brundtland (Sustainability development) viewed July 25 2014, <>
  8. Department of Engineering Services, MoWHS (2013). Bhutan green building guidelines. Thimphu.
  9. Glassie Henry, Material Culture, Vol. 16, No.1 (Spring 1984). Vernacular Architecture and Society, Pioneer America Society.