Design for Resilience: Traditional Knowledge in Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment

  • K. MitraEmail author
Part of the Springer Geography book series (SPRINGERGEOGR)


Design is a loaded term that encompasses diverse viewpoints. Loon (Inter-organizational design: a new approach to team design in architecture and urban planning. In Proceedings of the 5th Design & Decision Support Systems Conference in Architecture and urban Planning. Nijkerk, Netherlands. August, 2000) interprets the term ‘designer’ to include anyone who has an impact on design, irrespective of the individual’s professional background. It follows then that optimum design is the consensual design solution that is considered optimum for the largest number of people. People will have diverse responses to what constitutes optimum. These responses are likely to be dependent on a host of factors including gender, profession, occupation, health, race, religion, age, environmental experience and attitudes, to name just a few. Thus, ‘optimum’ will not necessarily be the ‘best looking design’ or the ‘most economic design’ or even the ‘most functional design’; it will be the solution that best balances issues considered important to the largest section of people. Such a solution should ideally ensure maximum comfort and sense of well-being for all participants. This chapter looks at design within the domain of traditional knowledge systems and shows how communities residing in some of the most disaster-prone areas in the world, such as the Himalayas, have “designed” resilient environments that have withstood the ravages of hazardous events, for example, earthquakes. Unfortunately, these traditional design skills which were handed down through generations are no longer evident in their places of origin. The easy availability and economy afforded by reinforced concrete in even the most remote parts of the country, along with the associations of permanence (of the home) and prosperity (of the family) with this material, have resulted in the hybridization of traditional masonry constructions in different seismic zones of India.

Experiences from several past earthquake.s have shown that in many cases, traditional structures have performed remarkably well, while newer, “engineered” structures have not. Traditional construction, in this discussion, does not refer to historic structures—though there are many examples of good earthquake performance in this category of buildings—but rather encompasses the vernacular residential constructions made with locally available materials and using indigenous knowledge. A number of such traditional earthquake-resistant practices exist in the Himalayan region, one of the most tectonically active in the world. Some of the most effective of these are Dhajji-diwari and Taq, around the Srinagar area in Kashmir, Ikra construction in Assam, and Shee-Khim, in Sikkim. This chapter describes some of these traditional construction techniques and shows how these are effective as earthquake-resilient systems.


Earthquake resilience Traditional knowledge Design typologies 



The author gratefully acknowledges C.V.R Murty, Hemant B Kaushik and Sutapa Joti for some of the photographs and the support from BMTPC for conducting surveys in Srinagar and Guwahati.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Architecture, Town and Regional PlanningIndian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, ShibpurHowrahIndia

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