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GREEN SENSE

The roof over the head…

The early wanderers rested under a tree, the most natural roof. Some more details from SATHYA PRAKASH VARANASHI


“Millions of people live without a roof over the head. Roofing the families is a challenge in all poverty-stricken regions.”

“Natural disasters render thousands of families roofless. Sheltering such refugees continues to be a priority of the Government.”

“Shifting the houses is fine, but when does one get a permanent roof over the head?”

Before one wonders why there is such an incoherent beginning for the essay, let us realise all these are commonly read headlines in newspapers.

The idea of roof has, across our civilisation, gained multiple meanings in varied fields from politics to philosophy. However, basically it refers to an important aspect of structural engineering and architectural design.

Early roofs

It can be easily imagined how early wanderers would have rested under a tree, the most natural roof we all get over our heads. Big rock boulders provide a safer heaven, but large ones with space underneath are found far and few. Keeping a few twigs inclined, forming a cone, was discovered early, where the wall and roof merge, creating a pyramidal structure.

While easy to build, these conical houses could not be built beyond a certain size and also restricted movement inside due to the sloping edges. Caves with their roofed space might have provided clues to what we really need.

At some point, early humans must have realised the need to build one's own roof.

The earliest recipe for a shelter measuring 10'x10'x10' should have been very simple – four tree trunks as pillars, 40 ft. length of ropes, eight tree braches as roof beams, 50 nos. of palm tree leaves and six hours of time. A shelter, open at its sides, is ready!

It is only a roofed structure, but good enough to get protected and catch a sleep underneath. Incidentally, does it sound familiar?

Yes, because we still see them being made even today, especially on the fields of cultivation by farm labourers.

Advanced science

So far it appears as if roof making is simple! Well, for low-end needs and temporary shelter, it surely is. When societal activities gradually advanced, new building types were required that could hold large gatherings. People wanted to see the shrines of gods stay strong for long; important structures like palaces had to appear attractive; the roof had to withstand the vagaries of nature in areas of critical weather and for all these the same set of local materials had to be used, be it mud, wood or stone.

Doing a roof with mud alone or wood alone is not easy, nor can we have large buildings roofed with small stone slabs. Over the millennium, much must have collapsed, while a few stayed. As such we realise roofing the shelter has been among the most critical aspects of any building.

People across regions and over the centuries have attempted varied ideas, some with very innovative technologies, which we need to focus on now.

(The writer is an architect working for eco-friendly designs and can be contacted at varanashi@gmail.com )

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