Frequently Asked Questions

Are these older ways of building safe? Do they require additional efforts in maintenance?

An inherent advantage of specifying older techniques of construction in buildings of today – where these are appropriate – is that they have invariably withstood the test of time, which is also one of the primary reasons for their widespread use and success until some thirty years ago when the sea changes in our context turned acute.

The two most common traditional building components that offer themselves for adoption are load-bearing masonry walls and wooden roof structures covered with tiles, either independently or often in tandem. While allowing that the design contexts in which they are sought to be applied today can vary greatly from those of their traditional use – including for instance larger spans and increased floor heights – an appreciation of the methods of preparing and processing the raw materials involved along with the structural principles at work, taken together, should be sufficient to permit the successful use of these techniques in their proposed roles or otherwise serve to set prudent limits on the proposals themselves. It is useful to remind oneself that the walling and roofing techniques in question, evolved to be what they are today owing perhaps to the close attention paid to the twin tasks of processing the raw materials and putting together the component, which were the vital checks and balances that favoured optimal outcomes in the face of a wide range in the performance characteristics of the materials sourced and the levels of skills available.

Additional inputs may be indicated in the context of macro-level changes in climate, such as the increase in frequency and severity of storms or seismic activity, though these are best incorporated only where the threat is perceived to be significant, for obvious reasons of cost and limits to safe-guards.

Suffice it to say that one will have to expend considerable amounts of time, energy and money if one wishes to bring down a building built with these older methods. Further, as with all human artefacts, buildings require periodic maintenance and repair and this is equally true of buildings that employ older construction practices.

Why are older construction practices being abandoned ?

The reasons are complex and include developments across the world over the last several hundred years, but a brief answer would place the onus on the all-pervasive consumption ethic that has come to replace earlier tentative desires for increased material comfort and accumulation, and that drives the large scale industrialisation and urbanisation favoured by the privileged and powerful groups in every society, who are resident in the metropolis and hold to ransom a vast periphery and the planet.

The historically projected success of the colonial regimes in securing for their people – meaning propertied, white, male citizens – an apparently high standard of living was followed in the post-war years by the sad – but true – spectacle of local elites in the former colonies now assuming the role of the departed colonial master, speaking his language and thinking and acting like him, involving the cultural homogenisation of a rich diversity of peoples and practices through the imposition of western education and its progeny in media.

While overtly espousing a new-found nationalism, commonly expressed in the Modernist Project, these regimes were either complicit or herded into extending and consolidating the resource-extractive economic relationships that had prevailed under colonial rule, through the new instruments of aid and trade, with the markets of the fledgling nation states held captive to the industrial production and then the speculative capital of their former rulers.

In India the most important elements of the unequal structures outlined above were either carefully nurtured where they already existed or soon well established if not previously available, all in our supposedly free and independent society.  The protection afforded to the growth of Indian industry and business mirrored the decline of indigenous agriculture – now firmly harnessed to the petro-chemical sector – and craft and cottage based manufactures. This skewed and galloping growth, starkly evident in our exploding towns and cities is fed by the seemingly inexhaustible resource base that is the countryside – food, water, land, minerals, timber… and if the urban markets are saturated, the magical services of the twin identity-crisis generating juggernauts of modern education and media are not far away.

In the face of this onslaught on the hearts and minds of our people at large and on the common property resources of our villages and forests, it is hardly surprising that the older generations who continue to practise agriculture, animal husbandry or craft and are deeply aware of its cultural value – but barely manage to eke out an existence of sorts in the process – are constrained to advise their children to serve the New Empire.

And that is why, in the space of a few decades following independence, village house construction and repair exhibit an increasing use of cement, steel, burnt brick and Mangalore tile, in reinforced concrete frames and roofs and masonry walls and plaster, among the better-off on the one hand, as well as a widespread lack of maintenance leading to the continuing deterioration of existing buildings, including the mud-walled and timber-framed and thatched or tiled roof huts inhabited by the majority, on the other.

Do they cost more than conventional practices? Do they take longer to execute?

A typical small or medium scale building project employing older, traditional, appropriate construction techniques such as load-bearing/rat-trap bond masonry, lime mortars, pan tile roofs, RCC filler slabs etc., is likely to save its promoter approximately 5% to 7% of the cost of a similar building using conventional materials and carried out with equal care. One cannot expect to compare the cost of working with older construction methods with the cheapest conventional alternatives on the market, as the former perforce involves a significant component of labour intensive practices while the latter often achieves its ‘economy’ through questionable means.

It does not necessarily mean longer project time-lines, but in some cases where the specifications involve processing such as maturing intervals or the on-site manufacture of masonry/roof units etc., the likelihood of an extended project period must be considered.

How much do you charge for your services?

As there are two parts to the services we provide, our fee structure also reflects this division. Architectural Consultancy services which involve the design and production of architectural drawings and construction details, technical specifications and cost estimates and structural engineering and mechanical, electrical and plumbing services inputs, are normally charged at  3% to 5% of the contracted cost of these works. However, the cost of campus planning, landscape and layout development and interior furnishing consultancy services will not fall under the afore-mentioned class of services and will be quoted for separately, if requisitioned.

Where Construction Management and Supervisory services are required, the Commonweal normally charges 20% of the actual cost of the works commissioned, where all expenses excepting those on technical supervision are billed to the project account and undertaken on behalf of the client/promoter of the project. Over the last 5 years, the Commonweal has preferred to take up service contracts of this kind as against works contracts, on account of the highly volatile climate prevailing in the construction industry. On the positive side, the transparency in a service contract is a natural advantage that is in line with the Commonweal’s larger goals.

For more queries contact us.