Solid foundation

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Whether it is old Ahmedabad or Uttarkashi, traditional structures have withstood earthquakes of different magnitudes, better than the modern structures. Even in the Shillong earthquake of 1897, measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale, the traditional houses built by local residents reported less damage than the structures erected by the British. "The traditional structures have in-built features to resist earthquakes,' says V K Mathur, director of the Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee.

According to reports, the transition from masonry to wood frame construction in Istanbul took place after the 1509 earthquake which devastated thousands of houses and 109 mosques. In India, after the great Kangra earthquake of 1905, the structures in the new district headquarters, Dharamsala, were wood-framed light buildings. As wood became scarce, brick-and-stone construction became popular and economical. At present only 2.4 per cent of the total housing stock in Himachal Pradesh have wood and concrete walls that can resist moderate earthquakes.

Some traditional designs from earthquake-prone areas of India:

pherols (uttarkashi): It is a traditional quake-resistant multi-storey structure with wood and stone as the primary materials. Its main features include the tie-band and a wooden beam that holds the four walls, thus making it less prone to collapse. The walls, 45-50 cm in width, use small masonry stones placed within wooden blocks. The corner reinforcement helps in distribution of the seismic loads vertically.

Dhajji-Diwari (kashmir): This is Kashmir's earthquake-resistant load-bearing traditional structure. In 1885, Arthur Neve, a British tourist visiting Srinagar said: "