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The Concept of the Eco-city

The next new wave in city planning is “Eco-City” in response to global climate changes crisis. It is a relatively new concept, combining together ideas from several disciplines such as urban design, urban planning, transportation, health, housing, energy, economic development, natural habitats, public participation, and social justice (Register 1994). In simple word, Eco-city is settlement where it allows the citizen to live and work using minimum resources.
As cities continue to grow and population increase rapidly, the needs for sustainable form of development become increasing urgent. The search for appropriate solution and to create more sustainable cities has become the main concerns of designer, policy makers and environmental groups. The locations, types of buildings and infrastructure have direct impacts on its environment, economy and society. As city continue to grow and alters over a periods of time, it is difficult to change after inhabitation and construction. So, designers are trying to avoid that problems and prefer a new, master planned eco-cities. They argue that new eco-cities can fully integrate sustainable concepts of urban planning principle to create sustainable living environment as we go along with retrofitting existing cities. The master plan eco-city will be built using all the latest green technologies. But there people who oppose eco-city concept and called it a utopian city. But is eco-city really feasible or is it utopian concept? To fully understand, origin of eco-city concept will be analysed.
Eco-city originated in 1975 when Richard register and few friends founded Urban Ecology in Berkeley, California, as Non-profit organisation to make built our cities in balance with nature. According to Register (1994), the purpose of urban ecology was to build in Berkeley a “slow street” which is to have many trees along road, solar green houses, energy ordinance, establish good and efficient public transport, promoting pedestrainization as alternative to automobile, holding regular conference meeting with different stake holder.
But it was until the publications of Register’s visionary new book called Eco-city Berkeley in 1987, that the urban ecology gained momentum (Roseland, 2001). And the organisation’s new journal called The Urban Ecologist. The organisation held First International Eco-City Conference, in Berkeley in 1990 and ever since it held conference every year inviting people from around the world to discuss urban problems and to submit proposal for designing our cities based on ecological principles.
In 1992, David Engwicht, an Australian community activist, published Towards an Eco-City, in which he talks about how city planners and engineers have virtually eliminated effective human interaction by buildings more roads, shopping malls, gutting communities and increasing dense traffic. For Engwicht, a city is a place for inventions of maximizing exchanging and having minimized travel distance. The book was later reissued in North America as Reclaiming Our Cities and Towns (1993). Engwicht talks about how city planners and engineers have eliminated effective human exchange by building more roads, taking commerce out of the cities into strip malls, gutting communities, and increasing traffic fatalities. A city is an invention for maximizing exchange and minimizing travel (Engwicht, 1993). He advocates eco-city where there is transaction of all sorts of goods, money, ideas, emotions, genetic material, etc and where people move freely via foot, bicycles, and mass transit and interact freely without fear of traffic and pollutions.
But it was until the 1960’s, the use of fossil fuels, chemically controlled agriculture, deforestation and depletion of marine resources was thought to be not in dangers. In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission), released a summary report called “our Common Future” which cause widespread concerns on world deepening environmental degradation(WCED 1987). And this pushed sustainable development on the forefront. Various industries and sector are also going for sustainable development. The issue of sustainable planning is also a concern for planner, urban designer, construction industries, development authority and the population at large.
Register, Engwicht and Urban Ecology certainly deserve credit for popularizing the term “eco-city” in the last decade, but the eco-city concept is strongly influenced by other movements as well(Roseland, 2001). The mission of Urban Ecology is to create ecological cities based on the following 10 principles (Urban Ecology 1996):
Revise land-use priorities to create compact, diverse, green, safe, pleasant, and vital mixed-use communities near transit nodes and other transportation facilities.
Revise transportation priorities to favour foot, bicycle, cart, and transit over autos, and to emphasize “access by proximity.”
Restore damaged urban environments, especially creeks, shore lines, ridgelines, and wetlands.
Create decent, affordable, safe, convenient, and racially and economically mixed housing.
Nurture social justice and create improved opportunities for women, people of color, and the disabled.
Support local agriculture, urban greening projects, and community gardening.
Promote recycling, innovative appropriate technology, and resource conservation while reducing pollution and hazardous wastes.
Work with businesses to support ecologically sound economic activity while discouraging pollution, waste, and the use and production of hazardous materials.
Promote voluntary simplicity and discourage excessive consumption of material goods.
Increase awareness of the local environment and bioregion through activist and educational projects that increase public awareness of ecological sustainability issues.
The practical application of these principles has not been really encouraging for many years until literature that promotes the ideas began to appear. It appears in different terminology as per the orientations of the authors. The Authors include Designers, Practitioners, Visionaries and Activists, and the terminology includes everything from neotraditional town planning, pedestrian pockets, reurbanization, post-industrial suburbs, sustainable cities, green cities and eco-communities.
Although, the authors’ orientation has discernible differences in analysis, emphasis, and strategy between the variations as shown in table-1, the “eco-city” theme can encompass any and all of them. The term eco-city can be applied to existing eco-city or master plan eco-city as affirm by Register’s when he explains that “there are two ways to go about building eco-cities: changing existing towns or building new ones” (Register 1987 ).
Citizen organizations and municipal officials in cities and towns around the world have recently started experimenting on this eco-city concept to meet the social and environmental challenges (Roseland 1997, 1998). There is a urgent realization that Urban planning is a significant management tool for dealing with the sustainable urbanization challenges facing 21st century cities. Many cities has applied eco-city planning concept although most of them in small scale. Chattanooga and the San Francisco Bay Area in the U.S., Ottawa, Hamilton-Wentworth, and Greater Toronto in Canada, and Curitiba in Brazil are some of the earliest cities where this concept has been successfully applied.
Curitiba, a small Brazilian city, is one of the most sustainable cities in the world. It has received international recognition for its integrated transportation and land-use planning, and for its waste management programs. The city’s success is due to strong leadership-city officials who focused on simple, flexible, and affordable solutions. Throughout the project, the government conducted regular meeting with citizen so that citizen are involved in the process (Rabinovitch 1996).
Emboldened by the success of the above projects, Designer and local government are planning for massive overhaul of traditional way of city planning. They are looking at a way to plan new cities incorporating the entire above concept.
China, one of the world most populous countries in the world, faced massive environmental problem. It has emerged as major industrial power but at a great cost. The environment degradation is so severe that it is a cause for concern in china and could have international repercussions. Since pollution know no boundaries. Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides produce by China’s coal-fired power plants fall as acid rain on Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo. Suspended particulate over Los Angeles city originates in China, according to the Journal of Geophysical Research (Kahn and Yardley 2007).
The Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation (SIIC) hired Arup in 2005, to design a city which would exclusively use sustainable energy (solar panels, wind turbines and bio-fuels), self-sufficient and reduce energy consumption by 66% in comparision to Shanghai. The eco-city of Dongtan, which is be located on the island of Chongming, not far from Shanghai will be one of the world largest eco-city to provide housing for 500,000 people from rural areas. The Dongtan city will cover about 8,800 hectares which is roughly equal to the size of Manhattan Island. Dongtan will have ecological footprint of 2.2 ha per person by means of a combination of behaviour change and energy efficiency which is very close to limit of sustainability of 1.9 ha set forth by World Wide Fund for Nature.
China is also partnering with Singapore to build eco-city in Tianjin based on three harmonies principles which are people-people, people-environment and people-economy(Quek 2008) . The 30-square-kilometer site is a wasted land and water scarcity area which will be built over a period of 15 years at a cost of around 50 billion yuan (S$10 billion). The criteria for selection of site are that it should be wasted land and water scarce area. First, restoring the jiyun river will be top priority for propose new city of 350,000. Renewable energy like solar and wind power, rainwater harvesting, wastewater treatment and desalination of sea water are some of the proposal.
United Arab Emirates has planned to build the world’s most sustainable city, called Masdar City, initiatives of Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company. It is an ambitious project which will cost $22 billion to build a new, zero-emissions city for 50,000 residents in Abu Dhabi. The project is launched in 2007 and is designed by British firm Foster Partners. The propose new city will have new university, the Headquarters for Abu Dhabi’s Future Energy Company, special economic zones and an Innovation Center. According to the designer, Masdar eco-city is to be constructed in an energy efficient way that depends on large photovoltaic power plant to meet energy needs, which shall be for 2nd phase of the city expansion. The city is a car free, with a maximum walking distance of 200m to the nearest transport link and amenities. The streets are compact to encourage walking and are complemented by a personalised rapid transport system. Due to it compactness, the walkway and streets are shaded creating a pedestrian-friendly environment. The city will have wind, photovoltaic farms, research fields and plantations, so that it is entirely self-sustaining. Masdar City will be built in seven phases, the first of which is the Masdar Institute, which is set to be completed in 2010. The city’s phases will be progressively built over the next decade with the first phase reaching completion in 2013(Foster and Partner).
The idea of a city without any waste, landfill, car, self contained or without any carbon emission seem very desirable for a city but for some sceptic it a utopian dream which will never materialise. Sceptics are questioning whether totally designing a new city is possible incorporating all the eco-city concepts due to time and cost involved. The main weakness for master plan eco-city is the large inputs of energy required to construct an entire, functional city as a long continuous project. They are concern that it might just be a strategy used to shield from environmental criticism while countries like China and UAE continue to grow along the same unsustainable path. However, countries like China and UAE are in a position to fund such kind of projects and if it is successful it will create a precedent for other parts of the world as well.
Unfortunately, Dongtan eco-city never materialise. Although, the highest echelon in Chinese official expresses has shown keen interest in the project, the first phase of construction which is to be ready for Shanghai expo 2010 has not even started. The Dongtan eco-city in spite of being a government endeavour has failed to materialise. The Mayor of Shanghai has been sentence to 18 years jail term on corruption charges and abuse of power in 2008(Larson 2009). Sceptics of eco-city are saying that policy makers in China misuse the term of eco-city, to reduce criticism of china’s poor environment records without having any real commitment to the idea.
As for Masdar eco-city, work has already started for phase 1. However, sceptics are concern that it might be just an isolated green in the desert where the rest of UAE proceed in the same line of big ecological footprint which is even bigger than United State. They are also apprehensive about the embodied energy used in buildings and infrastructure which are very high. The heavy dependent on technology for personal rapid transport and infrastructure is another issue. Since the technology for personal rapid transport is not fully developed and co-ordinating infrastructure with different agencies is difficult.
The concept of building a city from a scratch or retrofitting existing building or redeveloping existing city are some of the burning issues. Designing a new city from scratch permits a greater comprehensive, whole systems approach, and more degrees of freedom than adaptation of an existing city( Fox 2008). On the other hand, the resources and energy needed for new construction of a city will be far greater than redeveloping an existing city. However, the beliefs and movement toward eco-cities has spread worldwide and has taken strong hold among planner. In spite of setback for some project, eco-city has will be main driving force for today cities and tomorrow cities. Eco-cities can be built on existing eco-cities or new master plan eco-city. Most propose master plan eco-city is to be developed in several stages in the next fifteen to forty years.
Some of the relevant issue for Eco-city planning concept for developing new city or adapting for existing cities are as follow:
Eco-city is based on holistic approach. This integrated approach is hindered by fragmented administrative structures, political rivalries and a disregard for citizen expertise. As in Dongtan case, the surrounding inhabitants are not even consulted and not aware of the projects.
Eco-city concept is not really encouraged by policy makers and planner as there are suspicious of the intention as it involve alternative ways of decision-making (e.g. community involvement), the implementation of new technologies (e.g. like Personal rapid transit for Masdar or energy generation ) and new organisational solutions (e.g. multiple use). The additional costs involved and loss of influence are some of their main concerns.
Eco-city concept may fail due to lack of political will and commitments on the part of everyone involved.
The Initial investments are very high compared to traditional approach to planning which can scarce potential investor.
Nevertheless, for successful implementation of eco-city, commitment from individual or Party involved is paramount. Vision, ambition and thinking big in long term are some of the necessary requirement. Besides, there has to be free flow of information and trust between the policy maker and non-policy maker. There has to be creation of win-win situation for everyone to make it successful. There has to be compromise in difference of opinion and unity of alliance.
A series of challenges exist for developing cities in many part of the world, particularly in developing countries where rapid economic development will put pressure on cities to accommodate rising population and more infrastructures. It is the place where next megacities are coming up. The designer, public policy maker are committed to developing eco-cities and other types of sustainable communities in the face of climate change, environmental pollution, water shortage, and energy demand. Today utopia’s vision can become tomorrow reality. Many of the sustainable city emphasize on compact land use, clean transport, waste management, renewable energy( wind turbines and solar energy).
Most of eco-city plans are huge and need long term investments. But should we turn away from utopian visions they provoke? Planning completely new cities is expensive, and it is not possible to build all new cities. However, we can strive to improve existing cities when there is an abundance of already established cities and urban areas. In my opinion, I think we should embrace them and work towards searching for improving them. Perhaps, the scales of new master eco-city project need to be smaller so as to have short construction time and less costly. Someday the impressive catchphrases, such as “carbon-neutral”, “zero-waste”, and “car-free” for a city might be reality.
Daly,H. 1973. Toward a Steady-State Economy, Freeman, San Francisco (1973).
McDonnell,M.J., Hahs, A.K., Breuste, J.H. 2009, Ecology of a cities and towns: A comparative approach. Cambridge University Press 2009.
Rabinovitch, J. 1996. Integrated transportation and land use planning channel Curitiba’s growth. In World Resources Institute, United Nations Environment Program, United Nations Development Program, The World Bank, World Resources 1996-97: The Urban Environment. New York: Oxford University Press.
Roseland, M., 2001, The eco-city approach to sustainable development in urban areas. In: Devuyst D, Hens L, De Lannoy W (eds). How green is the city? Sustainability assessment and the management of urban environments. Columbia University Press, New York, pp 85-104.
Register, R. 1987. Eco-City Berkeley: Building Cities for a Healthy Future. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Register, R. 1994. Eco-cities: Rebuilding civilization, restoring nature. In D. Aberley, ed., Futures By Design: The Practice of Ecological Planning. Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers.
Roseland, M. 1995. Sustainable communities: An examination of the literature.” In Sustainable Communities Resource Package. Toronto: Ontario Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
Roseland, M. 1997. Dimensions of the eco-city. CITIES: The International Journal of Urban Policy and Planning 14,4: 197-202.
Roseland, M., ed. 1997. Eco-City Dimensions: Healthy Communities, Healthy Planet. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.
Roseland, M. 1998. Toward Sustainable Communities, Resources
Roseland, M., “Sustainable Community Development: Integrating Environmental, Economic, and Social Objectives,” Progress in Planning, Volume 54 (2), October 2000, pp. 73-132.
Roseland,M., Dimension of the eco-city, Cities, Volume 14, Issue 4, August 1997, Pages 197-202
Resilience Alliance (2007) A research prospectus for urban resilience. A resilience alliance initiative for transitioning urban systems towards sustainable futures. Available at http://www. ctusv7feb07.pdf accessed on 29 March 2010
Kenworthy, J.R., The eco-city: ten key transport and planning dimensions for sustainable city development, Environment and Urbanization, Vol. 18, No. 1, 67-85 (2006)
World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987. World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future. , Oxford University Press, New York (1987).
Dongtan, An Eco-City, edited by Zhao Yan, Herbert Girardet, et was published by Arup and SIIC in February 2006.
UN HABITAT, Planning Sustainable Cities: Policy directions. Global Report on Human Settlements 2009. Abridged edition. Gutenberg Press, Malta. Available from Accessed on 2 march 2010
Kahn, J and Yardley, J. As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes. The New York Times. August 26, 2007. Available on Accessed on 27 march 2010
Dongtan: The world’s first large-scale eco-city? Available on
Quek, Tracy, S’pore, China break ground , straits times, China Correspondent. Sep 29, 2008. Accessed on 27 march 2010
Larson, Christina. China’s Grand Plans for Eco-Cities Now Lie Abandoned. Yale e360. 06 Apr 2009. Available on Accessed on 28 march 2010
Fox, Jesse. “Ecocities of Tomorrow: Can Foster Partners’ Masdar City in the U.A.E. be Truly sustainable?”. Treehugger. March 4, 2008. Available on Accessed on 29 march 2010
Richard Register – Author, theorist, philosopher and 35 year veteran of the ecocity movement. Founder of Ecocity Builders and Urban Ecology, and author of Ecocities: Rebuilding Cities in Balance with Nature.

Earthquake Resistant Vernacular Architecture | Analysis

The role of Earthquake Resistant Vernacular Architecture in Kashmir
Vernacular architecture is the response from a community or a group of person’s needs in regards to the built environment using locally available resources. It is tailored to the climatic, geographic, sociological and aesthetic needs of specific localities and emulates local traditions. As it usually a community based activity without qualified architects, the approach tends to be more unpedigreed and constantly evolving. Rural buildings in Kashmir are designed by the people living there and thus reflect the local cultural heritage as well as the strength of the community itself. In general, buildings in Kashmir have relied entirely on mud, bricks, stone and wood for a long time. In recent times, non-local materials have become more available for the communities living in Kashmir, especially more prosperous regions1.
Background Information
Indian-administered Kashmir includes Jammu and Kashmir sharing a border with China, in the north and east. Pakistan-administered Kashmir terrorities are Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltisan which are part of the greater Kashmir region. The Kashmir region is on the northern borders of India and Pakistan and the southwestern border of China. Gilgit-Baltisan is the northern most region of Pakistan-administered Pakistan, bordering Azad Kashmir in the south. The irregular topography accounts for the variation in temperature and is largely regulated by the Himalayas, surrounding mountainous and water occupying regions. Despite this, Kashmir has still got four distinct seasons with the highest temperatures reaching over 30°C and the winter temperatures as low as -4°C during the nights with snowfall. The climate is known to milder than other surrounding regions to the relatively low altitude2. The soil found in Kashmir is described as clayey, loamy rich and light with alluvial origin. Alluvial soils are known to be more vulnerable to ground failure when seismic vibrations take place. Softer soils are found in Srinagar and across the Valley of Kashmir and they can contribute to making an earthquake last longer3. The economy of the area heavily relies on agriculture with 60% of the area relying on irrigation for major crops such as rice, maize and wheat. There are dense forests that can be divided into two zones (Sub-Himalayan and Himalayan) providing an invaluable source for timber in construction4.
Earthquake Risk
The Himalayas itself have been created by the collision of two tectonic plates, making it one of the world’s most earthquake prone zones. The Kashmir region is a seismically active experiencing several earthquakes in the Valley of Kashmir throughout history. The boundary of the Indian tectonic plate is colliding with the stationary Eurasian plate creating areas of high stress. Studies show that the Indian tectonic plate moves at 1.8cm a year beneath the Himalayan tectonic plate. Between 1904-2015, there have been 102 earthquakes recorded at this region and there are records dating back to the 15th Century detailing severe earthquakes4. The built environment around Kashmir has changed to help minimise the impact of these earthquakes Initiatives such as the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) collaboration with India in 2006 after the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake have advocated for the preservation of vernacular buildings but also to discuss alternatives in earthquake-resistant buildings with world-renowned international experts5.
Evolution of Vernacular Buildings
Most of the buildings in the Kashmiri area are constructed because of the community’s adaptation to living in a disaster-prone area. Many towns and villages in Kashmir are found on soft soils or on former prehistoric lakes, therefore it is essential to have characteristic yet simple residential houses. For example, in places with soft water-laden soils, the evolution of timber-laced construction is a necessity for structural survival in the long term. These buildings tend to lean and tilt slightly with little rigidity. For a long time, the heating and cooking systems of these houses has remained intact. Wood-burning stoves were and still are made from easily sourced mud and a copper vessel embedded into the masonry wall to heat up the water. Due to very little additional expenditure, stoves made from galvanized iron sheets have become more popular. Timber-laced masonry construction systems in Kashmir date back to the 12th century, however it was only in the beginning of the 19th century that these systems split into two main traditional construction styles: taq and Dhajji dewari. There has been other earthquake – resistant vernacular constructions found in Kashmir after the 2005 earthquake, such as balconies resting on wooden joists, well-designed trusses and ceilings with joists that rested on the wooden built bands spread across walls. There are variations of these styles that are found in heavily mountainous areas where soft soils are not a problem.6 Therefore, the major factors that controlled vernacular architecture are access to good soil for brick-making, to water and to timber, as well as earthquake resistance.
Taq (bhatar) buildings
Taq buildings are a traditional form of Kashmiri construction and are known for their resistance against earthquakes. The taq system involves load-bearing masonry walls with horizontal timbers embedded in them. The unreinforced masonry is low-strength which is known as masonry laid in lime-sand or mud mortar. The masonry piers are tied together in a ladder-like format by the timber beams in each floor and window level. The symmetrical positioning of windows in a characteristic feature of taqs and is where the name originates from. These timbers resist earthquake collapse by allowing movement of the masonry and the confinement of the brick mud or rubble stone of the wall. The timbers allow an increase in ductility when absorbing the energy released from an earthquake. The full weight of the masonry can be placed on the timber allowing the structure to be held in place. These buildings have enough flexibility to sway in an event of an earthquake. However, the materials in taq are not individually ductile and don’t typically exhibit plastic behaviour under stress. Although, since it works as a system, the behaviour that shows this form of flexibility is because of the energy dissipation from the friction between the timbers and the masonry. This friction only occurs when the masonry has been consisted of mortar made from low-strength mud or lime. The Kashmiri house size measurements is defined by the number of window bays, for example, a 5 taq house is five window bays wide. All materials that allow flexibility are easily sourced in Kashmir yet these naturally occurring materials tend not to be strong enough to provide rigidity to the buildings. These ancient taq buildings originally possessed structural and traditional Kashmiri patterns and designs, and held a cultural significance amongst communities7. There has been an area of debate amongst engineers in introducing modern elements to taq buildings, however these have proved to be incompatible. For example, using steel reinforcement inside the walls however the rusting of steel when iron converts to iron oxide results in an expansion and thus, the force of this has a negative impact on corresponding materials by breaking them, e.g. the masonry. In addition to this, using steel rods and other incompatible methods such as welding, requires more skill as it is more advance2.

Dhajji dewari
The Dhajji dewari buildings is a mixture of timber and masonry construction that is also found in non-earthquake zones. ‘Dhajji dewari’ is a Persian term meaning a ‘patchwork quilt wall’. The walls are lighter and thinner and are made of timber framing with infills of brick or sometimes stone masonry. The wall is usually one-half brick thick and then mostly made of timber and masonry. The infil is commonly brick that is made from fired or unfired clay, or rubble stone in more mountainous regions. The vertical and horizontal cage that is formed by the timber frame allows diagonal movement against sheer stress. Timber studs are used to subdivide the infill which help resist the progressive destruction of the wall and of diagonal shear cracks. The buildings are usually found in flat terrain and are detached. They are found in more rural areas since urban areas of Kashmir (e.g. Mirpur, Azad Kashmir) use modern materials such as cement and steel in present time. These materials are affordable to areas where there are less agricultural based jobs, and more industrial based employment. Dhajji buildings in urban areas can also be up to four stories high and more extravagant. In general, Dhajji buildings are mostly found in the western Himalayas in both the Pakistan and Indian-administered sectors of Kashmir. This construction type has been used for over 200 years due to the speed, cost and availability of the resources required to produce these structures. The skill required is not exhaustive for the labour involved and in fact, easier to repair than to make a new house. Dhajji buildings tend to perform better after earthquakes than the original taq buildings, however it cannot be a choice for everyone in the region due to economic means. Despite the locally sourced timber, the judicious use of it in taq and Dhajji buildings means that over the years it has become more in demand, especially post-earthquake times. Towards the 21st century, several people would construct in reinforced concrete however the disadvantages included the poor thermal performance of hollow concrete block construction, this was especially seen in the cold winter seasons. Rich merchants and politicians tend to have very large houses constructed in the Dhajji format and it works as a multi-family housing unit, especially in a region known to have extended families living together. A lot of Dhajji houses are also used for shelter for livestock. Agriculture and farming are an integral part of Kashmiri society, therefore sheltering animals during an earthquake is essential. It is also difficult for communities to move elsewhere in the region since land ownership is the main form of inheritance and records go back to 500 years8. This is another reason why buildings are built upwards on one land plot as well the high density of development in these areas. There is a sense of craftsmanship in making these buildings as simple and reproducible for the community as possible.

Cator and Cribbage
There are several historic mosques in Srinagar that have employed a cator and cribbage style which is another variation of timber-laced masonry. These structures have also proven to be stable in earthquake-prone regions. The timber-laced masonry is much heavier with a greater use of timber and have been around for approximately 1,000 years. The corners of the building are made of a cribbage of timber with masonry, which connects to the timber belts (cators) running across the walls. These concepts of design come from the Islamic cultural influence from the Middle East, notably in Turkey where it dates back 9,000 years. The walls would usually have religious carvings and symbolism8.

Fig.5: Cater and Cribbage technique
A comparison of Modern Vernacular Architecture with Traditional Vernacular Architecture
After the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake with a high magnitude of 7.6 killed approximately 80,000 people and over 3 million Kashmiris left homeless. Despite the government introducing more steel and reinforced construction over the last 20 years, it made little difference to the impact that the earthquake had, infact Dhajji and bhatar construction turned out to be more stable. This result from reinforced concrete has been witnessed in other earthquakes e.g. Ahmedabad in 2001 and Iran in 20038. Survival rates of those trapped under these constructions was higher than those trapped under concrete based buildings. There has been a modernization of cities such as Srinagar involving the replacement of masonry and timber based constructions with reinforced concrete, affecting the aesthetic appeal of the traditional buildings. Local traditional design usually involves large windows for the summer seasons, however with concrete houses, central heating during the harsh winters is poor and a large majority of Kashmiris fall into the lower economical class where they can’t afford the fuel to heat up their homes.
Due to their flexibility over the years, Taq and Dhajji buildings have showcased that they can survive low to medium Richter Scale earthquakes. Using natural occurring resources such as mud mortar and locally available supplies such as bricks and wood have allowed Kashmiri traditional houses to have a lower level of thermal conductivity than concrete, and thus greater insulation. This is a crucial need for those living in Kashmir because although the summers are short, they can be very warm therefore a house without windows is futile. The materials used for these structures is also useful in the sense that they were recyclable, and it was easier to re-build or reuse the materials for another purpose after an earthquake. This is much more difficult for a concrete building. There are more problems left for the residents after a concrete house has collapsed, such as the removal of debris and rescuing survivors. However there has been strain on the timber supplies due to the deforestation rate increasing as the number of earthquakes and population increase. This has led to a larger number of cement plants in Kashmir. Although, high-strength cement-based mortar is now a generic material recommended by most engineers for building on earthquake areas, but Kashmir which experiences considerably larger earthquakes, the mortar ceases to make a beneficial difference once the walls of the building begin cracking. With timber-based masonry, the low strength mortar is used to hold the bricks apart, rather than together allowing the dissipation of the earthquake’s energy to other units of the structure. Therefore, internal damping is an area that differs between both kinds of buildings. In addition to these construction problems, many people in the region are more likely to have poor construction practice (due to the more complicated procedures and skills) such as poor mixing or inadequate hydration of concrete which increases the likelihood of a collapse.
Tourism has also become an economically beneficial industry in the Kashmir regions providing new employment for its communities, therefore the need to keep its natural attractions is crucial. Prices of timber have increased over the years too and the cost to maintain wood structures has deterred many residents. Overall, the need for modernization and emulating westernization standards of housing has shifted what the communities want, rather than need. Taq and Dhajji dewari have become a symbol of the old times and the prevalence of architecture as a profession has helped create this shift. International architects and engineers have introduced new ideas and concepts to an area that has little similarity to other places in the world, due to its unique geography and climate. The consequences of the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake have caused a detachment from traditional architecture, despite the uniqueness and the performance of it under previous natural disasters.
Using Vernacular approaches in Modern Times: Yasmeen Lari
One architect that has adopted a vernacular approach in the Kashmir regions is Yasmeen Lari. Lari is Pakistan’s first female architect. She has been known to be an advocate for the preservation of historical and cultural Pakistani sites. Like others in Kashmir, she has a keen interest in maintaining cultural heritage yet also having a modern perspective. She has built 45,000 structures since 2010 withstanding earthquakes and even flash floods. Lari has also created the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan employing architecture students to teach and train the local community to build more sustainable homes. The foundation aims to increase the involvement of women in rebuilding their homes after natural disasters. Previously, male family members would be part of the community activity of rebuilding and restoration due to cultural reasons. Her technique involves using mud, bamboo, lime and mix lime with mud to create a strong foundation for buildings. The pillars of the houses consist of bamboo roofs, the walls are made from a mixture of mud, lime and other locally sourced material. The rood is known as the ‘Karavan roof’, whereby the bamboo can last for 25 years when covered with straw matting, and to make it waterproof a layer of tarpaulin and pozzolana is added. The sizes of the houses range from a single room to a larger room suitable for 5 people, kitchen, bathroom and verandah. After 3 years, it was found that these houses were still standing and in good condition. The reluctance to use cement, steel and burnt bricks for her was since these high-cost materials don’t work as efficiently under a disaster situation. It also provides help to communities that aren’t as economically stable as others in Kashmir (e.g. Mirpur in Pakistan has a large British Pakistani population allowing greater expenditure on buildings) and are not in favour of modernisation. The idea behind Lari’s concept is the same that has been used in Kashmir for years before modernisation occurred, it basically ensures that buildings are simple enough to be rebuilt by inhabitants when in need. The importance of local involvement has been witnessed in the building of Taq and Dhajji Dewari buildings. Lari’s main objective is to enhance the focus on heritage methodology and learn from the past and advocate zero-cost and zero-carbon solutions9.
In current times, the Dhajji dewari system is still being used in and adapted in places such as Srinagar, although the principles are the same, new additions such as mud mixed with straw for brick infill are being explored. However, the shift to reinforced concrete buildings is noticeable and has left some taq and Dhajji buildings out of fashion. The combination of vernacular techniques and methods with modern materials and technology are slowly being advocated by groups such as UNESCO. Taq and Dhajji dewari systems have become a symbol of continuity and tradition. The idea of improving the quality of life by modernization has overshadowed the need for traditional timber-based masonry buildings in an extremely earthquake zone. The evolution of earthquake resistance buildings in Kashmir has been rushed to the most generic and common answer (reinforced cement construction), but the disadvantages of this have been witnessed by communities, especially poorer communities. Older designs tend to complement the climate and the resources available to a higher degree but reverting completely back to them is not ideal. There is general rediscovery of the advantages of old fashioned methods by the government too and a conscious shift to a pre-modern Kashmir but with also new building science.
Vernacular Architecture By Henry Glassie – pg 12
Living in Harmony with the Four Elements” 12-14 December 2010 ‘Earthquake Resistant Traditional Construction’ is Not an Oxymoron* The Resilience of Timber and Masonry Structures in the Himalayan Region and Beyond, and its Relevance to Heritage Preservation in Bhutan By Randolph Langenbach
Auerbach’s Wilderness Medicine By Paul S. Auerbach, Tracy A Cushing, N. Stuart Harris pg 1926
History of Natural Disasters in Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Kashmir with Special Reference to Earthquakes Sidrat Ul Muntaha Anees
M. Sultan Bhat Don’t Tear it Down!Text and Photographs by Randolph Langenbach Preserving the Earthquake Resistant Vernacular Architecture of KashmirBOOK EXCERPT:Showing Forword, (2) pages 59-61: Section 3.6.2 “corner vertical rebar in taq [timber-laced masonry bearing wall] construction”and definition of taq and dhajji dewari construction. FROM:Orig inal publication Info:Produced by UNESCO
Cultures and Disasters: Understanding Cultural Framings in Disaster Risk …edited by Fred Krüger, Greg Bankoff, Terry Cannon, Benedikt Orlowski, E. Lisa F. Schipper pg 65
Traditional Earthquake Resistant System Kashmir Mohd Akeeb Dar Sajad Ahmad Hazards and the Built Environment: Attaining Built-in Resilience International Journal of Civil and Structural Engineering Research ISSN 2348-7607 (Online) Vol. 2, Issue 2, pp: (86-92), Month: October 2014 – March 2015, Available at:
Building of a disaster By Shahnawaz Khan Srinagar, July 3, 2014: