Masonry walls or concrete columns?

If you are looking for concrete explanations to choose the right one

January 27, 2012 05:25 pm | Updated October 18, 2016 12:46 pm IST

TECHNIQUE MATTERS: Is it coming up the right way?

TECHNIQUE MATTERS: Is it coming up the right way?

Is your house built with pillar construction? If this line sounds familiar, there's no surprise. Among larger cities today, building the house with concrete pillars and beams is becoming common, just like a multi-storey office building gets built. Have the load bearing walls suddenly lost their capacity? No way, they are as good a system as ever.

In the older areas of any city, houses with two or even three floors are commonly found built with no pillars. Raising the house, wall over the wall and floor over the floor, has been the most common method all over the world. The system is termed ‘load bearing wall system,' against the ‘column and beam' method called as ‘frame system.' Both the systems have their respective advantages and drawbacks, hence require a judicious synthesis, as specific locations demand.

Pillars become inevitable where the soil is very loose, ground is water logged, land is earthquake prone, masonry materials are rare, and light weight construction is desired. A simple criterion for taking a decision can also be to see how our elders built. Irrespective of the site context and precedence, today we see the proliferation of concrete pillars everywhere. Construction costs have gone up, yet the idea has caught on!

The myths…

Among the arguments supporting RCC columns, we hear that more the columns greater the safety against earthquakes. It is not totally true, for structural stability against earthquakes depend upon basic principles such as corner stiffeners, diagonal bracing, height proportions, and horizontal ties. If such issues are not adequately addressed, a framed building is bound to crack or collapse as much as a walled building would.

Another myth is about the reduced cost due to thinner walls, again not fully true for additional costs of the concrete components nullify the masonry savings, where thin walls bring more noise and water seepage as fresh set of problems. Additionally, framed buildings demand alignments to perfection, skills of construction and good junction between materials which are most often missing.

The major two arguments for framed buildings could be the speed of construction and possibility of tall structures. While these two are essentials of multi-storeyed buildings, they are inconsequential for houses, where time saved by columns is negligible considering the time anyway consumed in finishing the house and the advantage of possible height may not be the criteria, for houses are rarely beyond the second floor.

The professionals and the market forces together have misled building owners, erecting RCC columns everywhere irrespective of their real necessity, in the name of durability and strength. Now the time has come where even people simply demand concrete pillars, converted to believe in the myth that they are better. It is high time we realise how RCC frame for houses consume more money, resources and energy, none of which benefit either the building owners or Mother Nature.

(The writer is an architect working for eco-friendly designs and can be contacted at

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