Conservation of Heritage in Kashmir - In Stone and Wood

Heritage Architecture Dated:  March 12, 2015
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Restoration “is respectful of social diversity, and can also help build a basis for bringing people together to rebuild their quality of life founded upon an understanding of the value of Kashmir for its history and culture, and thus begin to appreciate their own importance within that history” -Randolph Langenbach for UNESCO

The valley of Kashmir besides its natural beauty is also known for its art and craft and for its exquisite craftsmanship which has flourished over the centuries. Some of the famous handicrafts of Kashmir are the hand-knotted Persian rugs and carpets, embroidered shawls in Jamawar embroidery, silk soft Pashmina, jewelry, articles made of walnut wood and paper mache.

Kashmir has a layer of history which offers various built heritage. Given their abundance and property of insulating against winter colds, timber and stone have been the staple building material in all regions of Greater Kashmir. Use of kiln bricks did not happen on a large scale till the late nineteenth century.

The combined use of these styles and traditions has left its impression on the entire length of the valley. The construction techniques resulted in structurally sound buildings that could withstand the recurring earthquakes, and at the same time with the varied lattice work and carvings, looked intriguing and formed beautiful street elevations.

Traditional Street ElevationsTraditional Street Elevations

These age old techniques are unfortunately being neglected, and wrong restoration techniques are making the structures weaker. The conservation of Kashmir is synonyms with earthquake resistant building technology. The repairs for the same are required urgently and with a lot of care, starting from the types of wood to their joinery details, to the earthquake resistant techniques. 

The problem is neglect and the solution is to do hands on restoration and repair of these damages. This article covers the basic building strategies required to build in Kashmir.

Structure of the Building:
Most commonly used timber in Kashmir is Deodar and the other lesser used varieties are kail or kayur.

Reinforcing the lower storiesReinforcing the lower stories (From Bhatar Construction by Swiss Agency for development and cooperation SDC)

The ideal plan was considered square or rectangle symmetry; the rectangle would be with the sides in 1:3 ratios. These forms give the maximum stability during an earthquake. The maximum number of storeys in each construction would be 2, with each floor of maximum 10 feet height. 

The Skin of the Structure:

The correct way of Dhajji Infill   The correct way of Dhajji Infill (Leepa-ERRA)

The lower walls of these structures were heavier than the upper floors. The external walls were usually load bearing and were made either out of load bearing timber planks or on the ‘Dhajji’ infill technique.

(As shown)This infill system leaves movement gaps for the structural members in case of an earthquake. Plastering this with concrete doesn’t solve the purpose of loose infill as it binds it very firmly. A mud plaster is sufficient and also insulates the house. ‘Dhajji’ filling without cross bracing members is not considered a stable construction technique.

Traditionally load bearing walls are supported on load bearing walls with the ideal sizes of timber posts-  4”X6”; placed at 6 feet from each other.

Skin of the Structure

Stacked Boxes:
Each storey was made as a separate box, with its own top and bottom plates. The building was a sereis of separate boxes stacked on top of each other, with a base plate under all posts and a wall plate above all posts.

Stacked Boxes

In new constructions, some houses do not have continuous plates, and posts are supported on the wall plate of the storey below.This is incorrect as they need to be independent to allow free movement.

Doors and Windows:
Openings in these houses were not very large without sub-sections. With the area of openning on a wall not exceeding 25% of the total wall area. It would be at least 5 feet from the corner and not exceed 5 feet in width. While larger spans were divided into sub sections of 2’. 

The correct placement of a windowThe correct placement of a window (Leepa-ERRA)

The verandahs were constructed of smaller wooden sections, and stiffened with balustrades or other infill.  The lattice work railings and window panels were added here between these balustrades.

Lattice work in BalconiesLattice work in Balconies (Leepa –ERRA)

Roof Structure:
The roof truss was added along with the wall for better anchoring and stability.  Hence the following steps should be kept in mind and checked during restoration and construction:

Roof ConstructionRoof Construction (From Bhatar Construction by Swiss Agency for development and cooperation SDC)

1.  The last beam on the wall is attached with the second last beam.
2.  The rafters and trusses are nailed down to these beams with long nails.
3.  The truss could be on the second last beam and the wall is filled up afterwards.
4.  The last and the second last pair of beams should be linked with nailed boards.

Roof Structure

To return it to its glory, to make the magic come back and to keep it that way for a long time, correct restoration is required for the buildings. Which can be achieved by educating the local craftsmen, increasing awareness among people, insuring proper use of new materials so that they strengthen the structure and don’t create additional load on it. 

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