Following the global trend of using reinforced concrete and steel as main building materials, Shillong is getting transformed into a ‘concrete jungle’. While the city shares the history of earthquakes, the quality and planning of the built fabric still demand very high attention. The region is full of problems which are widely spoken of, yet the lack of initiation of scientific research in the field is impairing local technological growth. The ‘Assam earthquake in 1897’ was one of the most devastating events in the Himalayan Frontal arc and a turning point in the construction history of the region. Following this, the expertise of light-weighted timber construction was borrowed from Japan and introduced as a substitute for the heavy traditional stone houses. This new seismic responsive construction technique called ‘Assam-type construction’ was developed using local timber, bamboo reeds, and lime plaster.
Also, the building industry is responsible for huge environmental impact due to carbon emissions coming from the production of common materials like steel and concrete, pollution during building construction and the energy consumed during the life of the building. The urgency of the global climate change crisis has forced us to question the fundamentals of our building materials. The historical success story in timber construction and abundant local availability creates hope for the region, giving us a strong base to re-investigate. Perhaps timber, being one of the oldest and most natural building materials, would have a more positive environmental impact than highly energy-intensive materials. The contextual study of resource availability, innovations in contemporary timber buildings, literature research on timber strucutres and seismic design form the scientific basis of conceptualization of this research. Upon retrofitting and reimagining, this historical construction technology has been transformed into a 6 storey tall timber structure, using locally available natural timber, which slips into the existing requirements of present-day habitants of urban Shillong. The scientific solution is directed by the iterative laboratory tests, structural calculations and computational simulations tailored to accommodate the seismic problem and the current regional technological advancements.
To conclude, the design logic of the proposed technology is encoded in a digital tool that could be used by the local designers for immediate implementation at an early design phase. The final output aims to go as local and ecological as possible.