Kashmir's climate-resilient homes: A sustainable and cultural Heritage
Kashmir’s climate-resilient homes refer to traditional homes in the region that have evolved over centuries to adapt to the harsh winters, hot summers, and heavy rainfall in the area.
These homes typically use locally-sourced materials and techniques that are well-suited to the local climate, such as wood, mud, and stone construction, and ventilation systems that promote indoor air circulation.
In contrast to modern construction practices, which often prioritize aesthetics and convenience over functionality, these traditional homes are designed to be both durable and energy-efficient, helping residents to stay comfortable throughout the year without relying on excessive heating or cooling equipment.
As such, they represent an important part of Kashmir’s cultural heritage and an example of sustainable and climate-resilient architecture.
The climate of Kashmir is characterized by long, cold winters and mild summers, with a significant amount of precipitation throughout the year. This climate has had a significant impact on the architecture of the region, with homes being designed to provide insulation and protection from the elements.
One notable feature of traditional Kashmiri homes is the use of wooden roofs. These roofs were designed to be steeply pitched to allow for the easy shedding of snow and rain, which are common in the region. The wooden roofs were also designed to be thick and insulated to keep the home warm during the winter months.
Another feature of traditional Kashmiri homes is the use of courtyards. These courtyards were designed to provide shelter from the wind and cold, as well as to provide a source of natural light and ventilation. The courtyards were often surrounded by a series of rooms, which were used for sleeping, cooking, and other daily activities.
The Climate of Kashmir
Kashmir and its climate are characterized by long, cold winters and mild summers, with a significant amount of precipitation throughout the year. This climate has had a significant impact on the architecture of the region, with homes being designed to provide insulation and protection from the elements.
Abdul Rashid 90 yrs old speaking to Groundreport.in said that ‘I have lived in this traditional Kashmiri home for more than 70 years, and it has protected my family from the harsh winter snow and cold winds. The wooden roofs and thick walls provide good insulation and keep the home warm during the winter months”.
‘I remember when I was a child, the houses in our village were built in a way that kept us warm in the winters and cool in the summers. The walls were thick, made of mud and stone, and the roofs were made of wood and grass, we never needed any heaters or air conditioning. These houses were not only sustainable but also a reflection of our culture and heritage. It’s sad to see that now, most people are building concrete houses that are not climate-resilient and don’t have the same charm as our traditional homes, he added.’
Rashid further added “I have seen the impact of climate change on our region. The winters have become milder, and we are experiencing more rainfall than ever before. This has put a strain on our traditional homes, which were designed to withstand harsh winters and moderate rainfall”.
The traditional homes in Kashmir were not only designed to withstand extreme weather conditions but also incorporated the local cultural and architectural practices.
For example, the ‘Khatamband’ technique of wooden ceiling decorations, the ‘Pinjra Kari’ lattice work on windows, and the ‘Papier-Mache’ craft for decorative elements. These homes were not just a shelter but also work of art.
Kashmir: Tectonically Unstable Zone 5
Dr Rakesh Chandra, presently working on deputation at the Department of Geology, University of Ladakh Leh speaking to Groundreport.in said that the Kashmir valley is located in zone 5, which is a tectonically unstable region. The valley is situated to the extreme west of the Himalayan arc, bordered by the Pir Panjal range to the south and the Zanskar range to the north.
‘Since the earthquake of 2005, no major seismic activity has been observed in Kashmir. Prior to that, the last significant earthquake occurred in 1905. This prolonged period without significant seismic activity raises the possibility of an earthquake happening at any moment’ he added.
Rakesh added, “old homes in Kashmir were constructed using a traditional technique called taq, which involves horizontal timber lacing embedded into masonry walls at each floor level and window lintel level to prevent spreading and cracking”.
“The traditional Kashmiri house typically has a width of 3-13 taq, where a taq is a window bay of 3-4 feet in width. The vertical loads are carried by masonry piers of 1-2 feet square, and the window bays may contain a window or a thinner masonry wall, as required by the building orientation and floor plan’.
Rakesh Chandra noted that two major construction techniques in the region, taq and dhajji dewari, have withstood disasters, including high-intensity earthquakes. Dhajji dewari is a framed structure in which spaces between wooden frames are filled with stone and brick masonry held together by mud mortar. This frame is designed to be shockproof and earthquake resilient.
Chandra stated, ‘New houses with long windows and windows beside doors should be avoided. Concrete houses, especially those that are three stories tall, pose a higher risk of casualties in the event of an earthquake.’
Traditional Materials and Techniques
The old homes of Kashmir are built using a construction technique known as taq. This technique involves embedding horizontal timber lacing into the masonry walls at each floor level and window lintel level to prevent spreading and cracking.
The traditional homes of Kashmir were constructed using a variety of materials, including wood, stone, and mud. These materials were chosen for their ability to withstand the region’s challenging weather conditions and for their abundance in the local environment.
Wood was a particularly important material in Kashmiri homes. It was used for the construction of roofs, doors, windows, and other structural elements.
The wooden roofs were steeply pitched to allow for the easy shedding of snow and rain, which are common in the region. The wooden roofs were also designed to be thick and insulated to keep the home warm during the winter months.
Stone and mud were used for the walls and floors of the homes. These materials provided good thermal insulation, which helped to keep the home cool during the summer months and warm during the winter months. The thick walls also helped to dampen noise and provide a sense of privacy and security.
The combination of wood and unreinforced masonry laid on weak mortar imparts ductility to the otherwise brittle structure and allows the full weight of the masonry to bear on the timbers, which hold them in place and prevent spreading.
Rayees Ahmad Shah, a climate researcher based in Kashmir speaking to Groundreport.in said “the traditional homes of Kashmir have evolved over centuries to adapt to the region’s unique climate conditions. These homes are designed to keep the occupants warm during harsh winters and cool during hot summers, while also providing protection from heavy rainfall and snow”.
The traditional homes of mud in Kashmir were once a common sight. However, with the passage of time, there has been a shift towards using modern building materials like cement, steel, and bricks. There are several reasons why traditional mud homes are not constructed in Kashmir anymore.
One reason is the availability of building materials. With the advent of modern technology, these materials are now readily available and are often considered more durable and long-lasting than mud. As a result, many people prefer to build their homes with these materials rather than mud.
Another reason is the changing lifestyle. With modernization and urbanization, people now prefer homes with modern amenities and facilities like running water, electricity, and sanitation.
The traditional methods of building mud homes require skilled labour, which may not be readily available in urban areas. As a result, many people choose to build their homes with modern materials that require less specialized knowledge and skills.
Courtyards and Ventilation
Speaking to Groundreport.in, Amir Magray an engineer said that “The construction of traditional houses often involves the use of natural materials like wood, mud, and stone, which are both renewable and biodegradable. As a result, these materials have a minimal impact on the environment, making them a sustainable choice for building homes”.
He added “Mud houses are a sustainable choice with a low environmental impact. They use natural, locally-sourced materials that require minimal processing and have a low carbon footprint’.
‘Mud houses also provide excellent insulation, reducing the need for heating and cooling and further reducing their environmental impact. Moreover, they can be designed to withstand earthquakes, making them a safe option for areas prone to seismic activity, he added”.
The traditional Kashmiri homes use courtyards. These courtyards were designed to provide shelter from the wind and cold, as well as to provide a source of natural light and ventilation.
The old homes of Kashmir have a deep cultural significance for the region. They are a reflection of the region’s rich architectural heritage and are an important part of its cultural identity. The homes have been passed down through generations of families and have been cherished for their unique beauty and historical significance.
An old aged man in the congested area of Kangan, Kashmir, reminisces about the harsh winters during the early day of his life. He recalls the chilla-i-kalan, the coldest period of winter in December and January, being even harsher than it is today, with temperatures dropping to minus 15 degrees Celsius.
He added “despite the lack of basic facilities like water and electricity, the man’s house was warm during winters and cool in summers. This was attributed to the use of natural materials such as mud and clay for wall construction and a wooden framework, providing insulation against the cold winters and regulating the temperature inside the house”.
While the traditional homes of Kashmir have stood the test of time, they face new challenges in modern times. Many of these homes are in need of repair and maintenance, and there is a risk that they may be lost to neglect or redevelopment.
The use of modern construction materials and techniques is also becoming more prevalent in the region, which could lead to the loss of traditional architectural styles.
Preserving these homes is important not only for their cultural and historical value, but also for their potential to provide sustainable housing solutions for the future.
Many of the materials and techniques used in traditional Kashmiri homes are environmentally friendly and sustainable, which could have significant benefits for the region’s housing needs.
The International Journal of Ambient Energy published a study titled ‘Financial evaluation of different space heating options used in the Kashmir valley’, which highlights that new buildings in the valley, mainly constructed after 2000, are not adequately designed to meet heating requirements.
The study revealed that these modern houses have insufficient insulation levels, and their doors and windows are not tightly fitted, resulting in substantial heat loss. As a result, heating costs during harsh winters increase significantly, leading to long-term financial burdens.
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