Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Wonders of Mud Construction in Kashmir

Ather describes a marvel called mud

(Syed Ather Qayoom Rufia, 27, was born in Srinagar, and received his initial schooling from the Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School, Srinagar, and Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. He graduated as an Architect from the Rizvi College of Architecture, Mumbai. He is currently a partner in an architect and real estate development company in Srinagar. His personal interests are reading, writing and surfing the internet.)

Earth Architecture

For a while now we have been celebrating the marvel that is steel and glass. A sheer glass exterior that goes hand in hand with a geometric structure seems a staple. So much so, that architects have probably exhausted the various permutations and combinations that are possible to showcase their originality. But there always has been, and will be, good old mud. It’s the building material that has run the longest race, and still is way ahead of its competitors with no sign of the finishing line approaching either. Renowned earth architect Laurie Baker has called mud the building material for the 21st century. It is estimated by the United Nations that about 40% of the world population lives in earthen dwellings. Those working with mud as the medium of construction prefer to call the practice earth architecture, not mud architecture. In contrast to other construction materials, including cement and steel, mud does not demand imported commercial energies and is therefore a favored material for those desirous of sustainable living. Mud in most cases is a preferred construction material because of its low embodied energy, its availability as a local material, and its versatility in use. Earth architecture is much more eco-friendly than buildings made from conventional fired bricks. It has the least environmental impact, is cost effective, and works well climatically. Given that it is a plastic material, it lends itself to moulding into extremely graceful and fluid forms.

Due to one man’s persistent, wise, skilful and persuasive efforts, mud in many parts of the world has been restored to its rightful status as a worthy construction material that can help produce durable houses and dwellings for both rich and poor. More people in India today live in houses constructed out of mud than out of any other material. Most of these houses have been built by those who live in them, with the assistance of persons skilled in the use of mud as a building material. And this is also the situation in countries like Australia and even many of the other so-called advanced countries. Many of these houses are 50-100 years old.

It is totally a wrong perception that mud is a poor man’s material. Contrary to popular perception, mud houses are affordable to all classes and can be designed to suit different tastes and fancies. They are environmentally virtuous and can face the elements with as much hardiness as supposedly stronger constructions made from concrete. For those not yet fixated on the inevitability of the use of modem materials and on their much vaunted strength, mud houses can be a liberating way to meet housing needs, private and public, without extravagance but with elegance. More than 25 million families (200 million or 20% of the population) in India are still without a roof over their heads. This is not an unusual scenario in most, if not all, countries of the South. The problem of providing mass housing would be insurmountable if one imagines this vast unsheltered population can only be housed once adequate quantities of cement and steel (and the funds or loans for these) are available. The fact of the matter is that such quantities will never be available.

Even if they were, it does not mean they would be affordable since their manufacture requires expensive imported fuels. Since the homeless are generally also the economically deprived, it is doubtful if such materials will ever be destined for their use. Modern materials and architecture colleges have effectively mired most modern minds, particularly the architects and government bureaucrats, in one-dimensional thinking. For 5,000 years, people have constructed houses without either cement or steel and provided durable solutions. Several million houses of mud have remained standing for centuries. In India even today, the largest number of houses constructed are out of mud. In contrast, in India and especially in Kashmir, experience with modern materials is fairly recent. Not enough time has elapsed to enable a proper evaluation and assessment of their ability to withstand the forces of nature. There are indications already that they may not pass the long-term test. For example, in most coastal areas, where large numbers of people live, metal rods used in reinforced concrete construction (RCC) of houses and bridges have been unable to withstand the forces of corrosion and are giving way. RCC slabs have been unable to protect residents from heavy downpours and these leak profusely.

There are various techniques by which one can use mud to build the most important part of a house that is a wall.

(a) The “cob” system: Large lumps of mud are moulded in the shape of a huge elongated egg, about 6 inches in diameter and about 12 to 18 inches in size. Rows of cobs are placed over each other to make a wall. Gaps and holes are filled and the wall is slammed down at the sides. The cob system is the easiest for those constructing a mud house for the first time and no special tools, equipment or moulds are required.

(b) Adobe or sun-dried brick systems: Moulds of brick are filled with the right mix of wet mud. The mould is then removed and the brick dried in the sun. This is the most popular form of brick-making since it uses only solar energy, which is free.

(c) Wattle and daub methods: This is used particularly for meeting housing requirements in areas prone to cyclones or earthquakes. Wattle is used to form the structure of the house similar to that of dajji-dewari in Kashmir and mud is used to fill the walls. During the rains, the mud may be washed away but it is easily replaced. The wattle can withstand any earth tremors.

Mud has been used extensively in Kashmir for many centuries and is still being used. Mud has a thermal property which keeps it warm in winter and cool in summer. During the Dogra period in Kashmir, majority of the population used the sun-dried bricks as less tax was levied upon them as compared to burnt bricks. Many old buildings constructed of only sun-dried bricks can be seen in downtown Srinagar. In many areas of Kashmir like Bederwah and Poonch, houses are still being constructed of sun-dried bricks. Mud along with timber is still considered the best building material in Kashmir due to earthquakes. Timber and mud make the structure light and flexible in case of shaking. Only time will tell us whether the modern concepts and materials suit our local architecture where our buildings are located in seismic zone or the old and traditional materials and techniques.

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