Majority of designers and engineers tend to rule out alternative ideas once they start calculating with the mainstream solutions.

Building with nature undoubtedly sounds like an attractive proposition and a visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s Bapukuti at Sevagram would heighten the spirits of every Indian. However the very logistics of releasing millions of square feet of built spaces in urban areas tends to shift our vote in favour of modern technology and manufactured materials. Technology and earthiness need not be such mutually exclusive paths, but can cross each other producing beautiful merger of the high tech with eco-friendly alternative.

Imagine a large span roof required at the top floor of a building. Reinforced concrete, truss with sheets made of galvanized iron, aluminium-coated panels, asbestos cement etc. or Mangalore tiled roof if span is manageable are the immediate options that get considered. For large widths, flat RCC roofs can be expensive; Mangalore tile at inaccessible heights is a maintenance challenge and sheet roofs come with their inherent disadvantages of heat and sound. In such cases, can we attempt to merge the technology and materials judiciously?

Consider the choices

Considering the wide span, steel truss is among the better choices, with curved form reducing the steel quantity. The final roof being vaulted also gives the whole building a greater look – a gain for the elevation without spending extra money on that count. Instead of the traditional triangular truss with its heavy industrial appearance, a built-up lattice truss along the curvature of the roof can be considered. This design ensures a spacious column-free hall and a high volume in centre, befitting the scale of the space.

The real challenge here is not about choice of the truss, but the choice of the roofing material. Thinking alternative options, one may consider compressed hollow clay tiles! Though the clay hourdi tiles will let in lesser heat than sheet roofing, the large encompassed volume inside will store it up, finally blowing it all on floor areas when we put on the fans. As such, proper ventilation is an imperative. The roof being the last one, turbo ventilators are a good choice to ventilate the highest parts of the roof.

Maintenance

For maintenance, workers may have to go up to the edge of the roof. Providing a few hooks along the curves will help the workers tie a safety rope around them. If carefully designed, the roof will cost within a reasonable range. Unfortunately, clay hourdi tiles are not available everywhere; if so, any other locally appropriate idea may have to be explored.

Fabricated steel and burnt mud as the combination may not appear commonplace, but if they both are among the appropriate ideas for the given context, they surely are the best fit. Majority of designers and engineers tend to rule out the alternative ideas, once they start calculating with the mainstream solutions. Before we start to draw boarder lines between the mainstream and the alternative, it is worth to run a quick exploration if the two could be merged.

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