Green Karavan Ghar The Journey towards Green Architecture

Text by: Mariyam Nizam
Photography: Courtesy Heritage Foundation

375 million people will be affected by climate-related disasters every year, well above the 263 million believed to have been directly impacted by natural disasters in 2010.” – British Ministry for International Development Report, 2011 It is an impossible task to ignore that which is in front of our eyes, it is impossible for us, as a race, to go on living as we do. Global warming is no longer a phenomenon that will affect us in some remote way in the distant future.

We have altered the earth, depleted its resources, fragmented its topography, ignored its plight, and now we must face its wrath. Architecture in this disaster stricken age must be designed as a realization of the global challenges that we face. In the span of five years, Pakistan has witnessed two natural calamities; both destructive in their own manner, affecting the lives of millions. The aftermath of the earthquake saw national and international organizations developing emergency shelter units that were to be used as temporary or transient housing, which were later converted into permanent units. The standard symbol for development, the ‘Galvanized-Iron’ sheet was employed with concrete, fibre glass, sand bag walls, and a vague new building methodology was introduced into the mountains of Kashmir. We hardly noticed the climatic constraints, the traditional architectural language, the requirements and needs of the users. In our urgency to build units, we did just that. But ‘experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again’ (Franklin P. Jones). The floods that swamped the country late last year, have required emergency, transient and permanent housing, and again without the research or development that is required, we are armed with high energy-consuming materials and urbane ideas, and headed for remote areas changing lives and lifestyles.

It is important for the architectural community to create an understanding that traditional building skills and methods, when employed with new technology and crafted awareness, not only has a larger benefit, it is also more efficient and flexible.In the aftermath of the Earthquake, 2005, Heritage Foundation (HF) began constructing a unit utilizing materials such as stone and wood from the debris of collapsed houses, along with the use of lime (instead of cement) in mortars, with provision for bond stones, G.I. sheets in corners and horizontal bracing in stone masonry walls. Galvanized sheet roofs were used due to scare of mud roofs that had collapsed during the earthquake.

While studying earthquake resistant structures, it was noted that more efficient tying could be achieved through introduction of wooden posts which would tie the entire structure from roof to foundations to the original structure and an improved KaravanGhar was developed. The G.I. roof was maintained to provide lightweight roofing. Internally, use of mud plaster with lime was encouraged. Ar. Yasmeen Lari, with structural advice from Engr. Amin Tariq, headed a team of young architects and students who visited and spent time amongst the affected population, sharing stories of horror and reconstructing lives, but the project did not end when the targeted 1150 housing units in 75 hamlets in Hazara were complete.

The Karavan Institute of Research and Training (KIRAT) was established in Battal, Hazara, which undertook experiments in creating a module that would be “green”. In 2007, bathrooms for executive tents were constructed at KIRAT. These were inspired by the traditional indigenous building technique known as Dhijji, in the Hazara region, which had withstood the tremors. Dhijji employs wooden horizontal and cross bracing in walls that are tied independent of the infill The infill can be of any material including stone and brick. However, the roofs were still made of G.I. sheets. Later during the year, a rehabilitation project to empower women and encourage community participation was begun. Known as the Destiny Makai Ki Roti, it involved the establishment of community kitchens with hygiene campaigns for maize bread to be manufactured using traditional water mills and tandoori earth ovens.

In order to provide low cost kitchens for the programme, a design was developed with wood horizontal and cross bracing (dhijji). As the mix was refined an improvement on the application of Mud/lime mortar and plaster was visible. The construction of the kitchens provided enough expertise to the team at the Heritage Foundation Base Camp in Dhijji infill walls, yet the use of G.I. sheets still posed a problem to Ar. Yasmeen Lari. The hesitance in constructing a mud roof was due to the fact that waterproofing techniques required experimentation. The construction of a couple of utility buildings provided the opportunity to test whether a water tight mud roof could be constructed.

From that day on, Heritage Foundation discontinued the use of G.I. sheets for roofs. The design of Research House (accommodation for Yasmeen Lari) consists of stone masonry walls with timber horizontal bracing and posts, timber joists and purlins. This was the first structure with large spans in which mud roof was applied over diagonal semi circular pinewood logs. The roof has undergone severe weather conditions of excessive rains and snow since 2008. As part of the Hygiene Awareness Program, one hundred and thirty seven bathrooms were constructed in Kodar, Hazara. These were all built with dhijji walls, wooden planks and mud on roof. In the flooring local stone was utilized. The community of villagers opposed the idea initially, but after a visit at the base camp and viewing the Research house and other mud-finish roofs they accepted the reversion to the traditional structure and were surprised to find that the roofs remained waterproof. By early 2009, the construction of community kitchens in IDP Camps in Mardan proved to be a great step toward the ‘green’ building methodology. The design of a bamboo structure was done while sitting in the Mardan Camp by Yasmeen Lari. To everyone’s surprise, the use of bamboo resulted in speedy construction –within 3 days the community kitchen was ready – the use of matting and application of mud/lime plaster provided insulation to provide a difference of almost 10 degrees in outside and inside temperatures. The question now was, could bamboo be used in earthquake area. A small store was designed, for which plinth beam and ring beams in timber, as well as timber joists for roofs were suggested. These were employed but construction of a complete bamboo structure was taken up as the new challenge. The Winter House, with a diameter of 16’ was constructed with bamboo supports in the earthquake area. Structural advice was still to use timber plinth and ring beams and wooden joists. HF architects decided to use bamboo 1⁄2 strips for roof planking and lime/mud roof finish. For the first time experimentation with stone filling in dhijji cross bracing was also undertaken. Based on the design of the Winter House with 16’ diameter, an experimental unit was constructed in the HF Base Camp. Since HF’s requirement was to make the entire structure without the use of wood, extensive studies were undertaken and solutions were found which obviated the use of timber. This unit was later to be converted into the Green Women’s Centre that was used as part of the rehabilitation and reconstruction undertaken in both Swat and Sindh after the floods. With the onslaught of the floods, Heritage Foundation, under the guidance of Yasmeen Lari, began to experiment with a basic housing unit that would be low in cost and its carbon footprint. HF laid down the parameters of the design: the structure must use only bamboo, with no timber, cement or steel components, and should build upon the experience gained by HF during the last five years. The experimental unit was completed by the first week of August, 2010. Beginning with a single team of skilled artisans the Heritage Foundation began the Green KaravanGhar Programme in Swat. The first demonstration unit of Green KaravanGhar (GKG) in Marghazar, Swat was completed by 28th August. The programme was to be based on community participation and training sessions of the local labour. Within six months, HF had trained over eight teams of artisans and constructed over 266 units in 19 different villages in Union Councils Matta and Islampur in Swat. The initial timeline of eight days was reduced to one day as constructional members were prefabricated and techniques mastered. Two Green Women Centres were also constructed where training workshops for women in traditional handloom and embroidery practices are taking place. The GKG module has been extended to the province of Sindh where 57 units have been completed with another 25 under construction. The design was altered to accommodate bamboo matting that is prefabricated by the locals and a traditional wind catcher was introduced. Since the site village was in the Kaccha area, foundations needed to be completed with an innovative design solution was sought out. As part of the programme, student volunteers were also involved in both Swat and Sindh. They involved the community in different awareness activities for health, hygiene, education and female literacy, which resulted in marked improvements in hygiene and cleanliness of entire villages and the community as well as the involvement of local children in arts and crafts instead of idle loitering. Disaster resilient architecture is not one which will survive a natural calamity; it is one which will prevent the factors that cause such a disaster. It is one which will educate the local community in traditional practices of their region, providing safe habitable houses that not only communicate harmony amongst the community but with nature itself.

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