Alternative Rural Construction Technologies in North East India

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INTRODUCTION: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, these resources has not been utilized efficiently. In order to utilize these available resources most efficiently, it is necessary to promote the use of innovative 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, has a great significance in the present rural scenario.

This paper aims at the study of vernacular architecture of these area. Note the pros and cons of the present construction scenarios, and improve on them to make a more efficient habitats, through alternative technologies/improving on the available resources to make a more efficient houses. The architectural solution can be attained through a deep study and understanding of this field.

The research question being, How to promote and extend appropriate construction technologies to improve rural architecture? Thus it aims to analyse the present rural architecture (taking NE India as a reference) and improve on it, to use the available resources most efficient.

REVIEW:Alternative rural construction technologies aims at finding the resources available in the North East India, and improving on them to make the most out of it.

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.

C:\Users\Lian Samte\Desktop\7th semester\D. Leikot - Copy.JPG 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. Here is the plan of a building made out of mud, (author). In this, we have a house extending 6.9m/ 4.9m, it has an area in the which are being used for cooking and preparing food, and comes the next section, where other daily activities happens, or rather their day space, and the other room being the bed room. All other activities like, bathing, preparing food for livestock, doing their needs happen near their house. The present issues here are like, shelter for them while doing their other activities outside their home. Sufficient air and light movement in the house. Unnecessary usage of construction materials, like for example, the thickness or the amount of materials usage (source: author)

in constructing the walls, roofs, flooring could have been reduced by properly reinforcing the materials or by using them in a more appropriate ways not just to reduce the amount of materials used, but also to make it last longer, fire proof or even using other more appropriate materials.

In spite of the fact that materials used for construction or plans of the building are not satisfactory, yet these present buildings provides them with a thermal comfort, and other various perimeters which one often fails to achieve in the modern houses. Thus, not just implementing new materials/ design of a building or planning, improving and finding alternative arrangement on the pros of the present rural construction and replacing the cons.

Also, some or rather, many of the present issues faced in the rural construction are just because of the lack of knowledge, the short comings of these issues could be solved not only by replacing the materials or change of design, but by means of minor changes, like the amount of materials used, maintenance problems, etc. further testing is needed, since knowledge of reasons of failure/ short coming of certain issues are limited.

These issues could be solved by further study/ research to provide the appropriate solutions and not just rely on assumptions made to be the reason for failure of the existing design or certain material.

These research will aim at studying further more into these issues and try to come up with an appropriate solution for the issues.

Alternative rural construction technologies not only aims at just changing/ improving on the existing materials, but it also aims at making the house plan for a more efficient use of space, both the negative and positive. To suite a) the climate b) the geography on which the building is supposed to sit c) the culture (including the religion, tradition, social activities) & and most importantly d) the dwellers.

Thus, alternative technologies can be looked upon under three different steps the first being the design (planning of the house- before the onsite execution of the house), Construction (materials- the onsite execution of the designed house) and Home/ dwelling (culture- the after execution of the house).

  1. The design (planning of the house- before the onsite execution of the house) - Designing of a rural house is more complex and difficult than the urban ones, as it usually has to cope not only for the family/owner but with their livestock too (Baker Laurie). 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. Because, 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.

The present conditions in these areas could not provide desirable shelter for different season of the year for the said needs, due to lack of knowledge, economic status, etc. Thus, these important activities happens in the area which are uncovered/ sometimes creating unavoidable issues during rainy season, harsh summer/winter, etc. So, basic plans which aims at minimizing and expanding as and when possible is needed or by providing some short of shelter for these outdoor activities for these seasons.

  1. Construction (materials- the onsite execution of the designed house) –

Execution is the stage where the conceptual is being shaped into things that can be sensed by other people. An idea must be realized in materials (Henry Glassie, 1984) materialization raises complexities in architectural communication not met in verbal communication and it limits concept. The decision to create a building is the decision to destroy some part of the material universe. Our natural things are destroyed- trees have been cut down, stone being broken into pieces, old homes are razed off– to make things better. The attempt to improve our dwellings by destructing the nature is technological. Every technological act entails changes in two major relations: one between the human to the non-human world, and the other one within the world of the people itself. Technology required the sacrifice of extant materials that ultimately do not owe their presence to human beings.

Thus, by wisely utilizing what Mother Nature gave us, we not only give back to nature, but the human- ourselves, as Brundtland (1987) states, 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-

  • 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.
  1. Home/ dwelling (culture- the after execution of the house) – Culture, meaning the people who are living in the executed house, the tradition, society, lifestyle, is one important aspect for designing a house. A home is a house where the family lives. So, the way the family maintains or uses the house also plays an important role in the durability of the house, stability and even thermal responds of the house. For instance, a traditional earth houses provide constant thermal comfort by regular maintenance, it needs to be plastered after every five years, due to its exposure to the outside atmosphere. If not, the thermal comfort provided by the houses reduces, same goes for a thatch roof, without regular maintenance water sipping through the roof can be experienced. Thus regular care has to be provided to the houses, even after it is once constructed. Lastly, this research/ findings aim at providing a construction materials which is more durable, needs less maintenance, and stable, these can be achieved by selecting the right type of materials for the right climate, geography and availability, or by treatment of the existing materials to make it needs less maintenance. Yet, continue care has to be taken by the owners, for the home to provide them healthy built in environment to live in.


Glassie Henry, Material Culture, Vol. 16, No.1 (Spring 1984). Vernacular Architecture and Society, Pioneer America Society.

Bakers Laurie, Rural house plans.

Anubha, Barun, Belal, Kartik, Kaushik, Nitin, et al. 1990, Clay Products Manufacture, Clay projects III yr. B.Arch, SPA Delhi.