architecture in himachal

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Traditional Architecture and Planning Techniques in Himachal Pradesh (Ms) M Jain, Non-member I Singh, Non-member Dr S C Sharma, Non-member This paper highlights the evolution of traditional architecture and settlement pattern in the hill region of Himachal Pradesh. The paper discusses the art and architecture which grew out of the man and natural interaction. It discusses the various Architectural Styles of temples evolved over a period of time, their construction techniques and materials used by the people of Himachal Pradesh. The design and planning consideration in the hills which require extra sensitivity and care because of the delicate nature of terrain and eco-system are described. The paper suggests that the traditional architecture which is the outcome of man's interaction with nature should not be disturbed. The planning techniques which have been scientifically proved successful due to difficult terrain and the scientific use of locally available material should be encouraged. Keywords: Traditional architecture; Settlement pattern; Eco system; Man-nature interaction; Planning techniques

INTRODUCTION The state of Himachal Pradesh has a treasure of traditional architecture. This traditional architecture has stood the test of time. This art and architecture have mostly grown out of age-old cultural heritage and numerous religious beliefs. It commands deep interest and respect as it represents and reveals the many faceted realities of the people living there. The ancient art and architecture of Himachal Pradesh have survived in the form of metal sculpture, wood carvings, stone carvings, paintings, traditional residential settlements and temple architecture.The most elementary form of hill architecture is represented by the old temples, which are scattered everywhere all along the mountain slopes and in the valleys. They are of indigenous styles and peculiar to the hills. Preparation of layout plans in hill area for the construction of different types of buildings, such as housing clusters, commercial complexes, institutional buildings is much more complicated as compared to the preparation of such plans in the plains. Layout planning is complicated due to constraints of hilly terrain for construction of buildings and roads beyond certain degree of slope. It is further complicated due to the following: Difficulty of getting suitable orientation on the hill slopes. Problems of soil erosion and land slides. n Restrictions by the forest department.( ban on cutting of the trees). n Existence of tall shoddy trees and dense forest area, which obstruct the winter sun required for the buildings. n Limitations on the height of the building due to earthquake risk. n High cost involved in the site development due to the cutting and the filling process. n Non-availability and transportation problems of construction materials. n


(Ms) M Jain and I Singh are with the Department of Architecture, National Institute of Technology, Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh; and Dr S C Sharma is with Giani Zail Singh College of Engineering and Technology, Bathinda, Himachal Pradesh. This paper was received on May 9, 2005. Written discussion on the paper will be received till January, 31, 2006.

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Figure 1 Traditional settlements

TRADITIONAL SETTLEMENTS The construction of the house or the habitable places usually starts near the resources like agricultural land, water etc. Prior to the commencement of construction, due consideration is given to the terrain and the climate (Figure 1). n The traditional house is in the form of a hut, and a hamlet develops when there are more than one hut and a small temple, dedicated to the local deity is gradually added. Thus from a singular structure of a hut, a small settlement is developed. n The vernacular architecture of hamlets in Himachal Pradesh also varies from region to region, depending upon the climatic factors and the availability of local materials. n It has been noticed that in the regions, comprising the Kullu valley, Satluj valley and the Ravi valley, a great commonality of styles exists (Figure 2). In the Satluj valley region, the typical house consists of stone and timber walls, constructed in what is known as Kath-Kona style, an indigenous style of construction, in which the walls are made with alternate courses of dry stone masonry and timber without any cementing mortar.


Figure 3 Lakshana Devi temple at Brahmaur

ARCHITECTURE OF THE RELIGIOUS BUILDINGS The religious buildings in Himachal symbolize not only the presence of various cultures in the region, but also signify the intermingling of societies through a blend of art and architecture. Together they produce a variety of styles in the built forms.

Figure 2 Kath -Kona style of a house in Satluj valley n In the hamlets located in the Ravi valley, the walls of the traditional houses are built mostly with the dried masonry, without using any alternate layers of timber. These walls are plastered with mud both from inside and the outside. n A common alternative is to make the lower storey of the house in dry stone masonry without any layer of timber beams and the upper floor exclusively in timber. The upper floor is projected on all the four sides supported by wooden posts and brackets. n In some parts of Himachal Pradesh, there is a popular use of the Dhajji wall construction. In this construction system, the walls are made of timber frames with in-fills of light thin panels made by close packaging of mud mortar, stone and ballast. The traditional Dhajji wall (framed wall) construction mode of the region was subsequently improvised by the British for making their colonial edifices.

Numbering approximately more than 6000, the Himachal Pradesh temples offer a variety of architecture and art. Thus the architectural styles found in Himachal Pradesh have been identified as (a) Pent-roof or Chalet style; (b) Nagara style; (c) Pagoda style; (d) Tower style (e) Flat roofed temples; (f) Pyramidal style; (g) Gompas. Pent- roof or Chalet Style The square or rectangular wood and stone temples with pent roof are the most ancient in Himachal Pradesh. They are found all over the hills. In size these structures differ considerably, while they all have only one common feature, that is the finely cut large and excellent stones, that constitute their base. Most remarkable among these temples are Lakshana Devi temple at Brahmaur, Shakti devi at Chhatrari in Chamba. The usual pattern is a square resting on a raised platform of stone. The building itself may be entirely of wood or of the wood and stone. It generally consists of a central cellar with an open verandah around it, and is covered with a pent roof of wood, which either slopes on two sides from the central ridge, or on four sides from the top (Figure 3). Nagara Style

A typical mountain village comprises of a compact group of houses arranged along the contours, of preferably south facing slope. n

n The hill house usually consists of two rooms. One on top of another and is built with mud, stone and timber. Usually the ground floor is used for keeping cattle and storing grain and fodder. The upper floor is the main living area.


Himachal Pradesh is also rich in the Indo -Aryan temples or what is popularly known as Nagara style of temples. The Nagara temples in Himachal Pradesh broadly follow the overall form and design of the typical Indo-Aryan stone temples, found in Orissa and Khajurao areas. Some minor modifications were made in the form of these temples of the plains to adapt them to the climatic conditions of the hill areas. The series of monolithic temples of IE(I) Journal--AR

Figure 4 Massur temple, Kangra Figure 6 Dum devta temple, Bhanmol, Shimla

like multi-storey edifices. These temples are believed to have Chinese or Tibetan influence in their architecture. The arrangements in the interior of these temples, including the wood carvings resemble those preserved in the Pentroof temples. These wood carvings were frequently repaired, when decayed, by replacing the old ones. Similarly the Pagoda roofs are also repaired, partly replacing the decayed portions. The temples at Hidimba Devi at Manali, Mahadev temple in Mandi district and Tripura Sundri Devi temple, Kullu come under this category (Figure 5). Tower Style Another type of pent-roof style is seen in the tower temples or it may be said that when the chalet type structure is raised to two to three storeys height, so that the verandah all around extends beyond the walls to form a cantilevered structure, as if a chalet placed on the high pedestal, it looks like a tower. The excellent types of this temple are Bhimkali temple at Sarahan and Dum Devta temple, Bhanmol, Shimla (Figure 6). Flat- roofed Temples

Figure 5 Tripura sundari devi temple, Kullu

Massur in Kangra district are the earliest specimen of the Nagara design (Figure 4). There are a number of seventh century Nagara type temples at Brahmaur, such as Manimahesh and Ganesha built by Meru Verman ( 680-700 A.D). The famous Lakshmi Narayan temple of Chamba is a group of temples with Nagara style. Pagoda Type Temples These are rectangular stone and wood structures with successive roofs, placed one over the other making them in some cases look Vol 86,October 2005

Figure 7 Dundi devi temple, Dabhas, Shimla


These temples are made of ordinary walls of mud and lime plaster. But the remarkable point about them is the wall paintings in Pahari style. This architectural styles include temples of Narbadeshwar (Sujanpur-Tihra) and Brajraj swami (Kangra valley) Pyramidal Style Considering style of roofs as a basis of distinction, such types of temples are built on square plinths. All the four lower eaves of the temple roof are of equal length and the roof goes on narrowing towards centre forming pyramid like roof in the centre. One of the examples of the pyramid style roof temple is Dundi Devi temple at Dabhas in Shimla district (Figure 7). . Gompas Except those at Rewalsar and Rampur, the Buddhist Gompas are confined to Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti area. These are generally flat-roofed complexes of many rooms. These monasteries or the Gompas are the repositories of Buddhist art and culture. The Gompa is the embodiment of the earthy seat of Buddha and other deities that make up the Buddhist Pantheon. Every village or a hamlet has its own monastery, and it forms the centre of the culture and social life of the people. BUILDING MATERIALS AND THE CONSTRUCTION TECHNIQUES

construction techniques are used here, the rammed earth technique and adobe construction. In the former style, the mud is filled into the wooden forms and rammed into the place slowly building up the wall. In the later style, sun dried mud blocks are used in the construction of the wall. The roof is kept flat and comprises a closely packed layer of sun twigs supported on wooden beams and joists and resting on the wooden columns. . Stability of the structures is a much desired quality, required for the hill regions. Lying in the seismic zone 4 and partly in the high intensity seismic zone 5, faced with extreme climatic conditions and steep hilly terrains, the available indigenous technology is an appropriate response. To counter the seismic forces, the traditional structures usually stand on a high solid plinth, made up of dry dressed stone masonry. The huge mass serves as a dampener pad to the earthquake forces and the dry construction allows for vibration and hence faster dissipation of the energy. Organic Building Character Varying topography gives pockets of land for development which give rise to discontinuous organic mosaic of building with varying sizes and spaces. No space is perceived in isolation. Buildings appear visually integrated with each other, establishing continuity in perception. It is the total composition, which becomes the most important.

Hostile weather conditions and limited supply of building materials has resulted in the usage of mud, stone and wood in varying degrees. In the vernacular architecture of the Himalayan region wood is extensively used, as the forests of the deodar wood and other mixed forests were easily available. The vast number of hill temples, are of deodar wood generally. Deodar wood has been used traditionally to impart stability to tall structures. The walls of some of these structures are raised on the horizontal wooden frame work called Cheols. In the well built structure, the wood is very carefully arranged, the beams with thickness around 30 cms in depth extending over the whole length of wall - a beam on the outside and another beam on the inside, the space in between is filled with stones.



River 300 A Figure 8 Safe angle of repose

In certain regions the construction system constitutes the erection of a timber frame work of uprights, beams and braces with dressed stone blocks as an in-fill material without any cementing material. Over the walls, a frame of the timber rafters and purlins is laid out for the pitched roof. The roofing on top is with slates as the material. The walls of the interior are usually finished with the mud plaster. Another material used is mud, on account of its easy availability, good insulation and the good binding properties. In some parts of the western Himalayan region comprising Upper Kinnaur, Lahaul- Spiti and Ladakh, the architectural style is different. Stone remains in use but its usage is restricted to the plinth. The locally available mud is used for the super structure. Two types of 38






Area of ADC= ∆ CDE


Figure 9 Clearance on sides of buildings

IE(I) Journal--AR

DESIGNING AND PLANNING IN HILLS Design considerations in hills require extra sensitivity and care because of the delicate nature of terrain and ecosystem. Unlike plains, here a new dimension or a height variation to the ground poses additional problem to the entire exercise. Physical Planning n The planning on the hills is very restrictive as compared to the plains. The major factors that govern the planning are topography, climatic conditions, orientation, traffic movement, available usable spaces, sources of water supply, natural drains and paths.

n Since the inner side of the cut slope may have higher bearing capacity, building should be so oriented and planned so as to enhance that higher load comes on inner side. Where the site seems to undergo unequal settlement, the site should be so planned and designed that the higher load comes on harder part of foundation and soil. n Terrace in all around the building should have proper slope for efficient drainage. During the site development, terrace may be cut at 1:30 to 1:50 slope and may be trimmed at suitable slope after the completion of the building work. n In the steep hilly zones, the stepped terraces will be much beneficial environmentally and economically, as they result in the least hill cutting and disturbance to the hill stability.

n Gentle slopes are required so that the cost of site development is lessened. The roads for traffic movement are of gradual gradient. Less excavation is required to be done to maintain the ecological balance.

n Minimum clearance of 1.0 m to 1.5 m should be given between the hill face and the building wall to avoid dampness and also for proper light and ventilation.

n Slope of the ground should not be more than 30º as far as possible even in rocky reaches to avoid instability problems, especially during severe earthquakes.

n Top hill surfaces near the buildings should be properly treated to make it impervious as far as possible, possibly by thick vegetation or stone pitching.

Suitable clearance around buildings is necessary. Foundation of any part of building should not rest on filled up ground. On hills there should be clearance of about 40º in case of soil, soil mixed boulder, fractured rock zone, soft rock zone having outward dip, so that any slip, if occurs may not hit the building. n

Due to the cold climate, the southern slopes are preferred. The orientation of the houses is to maximize the penetration of the sun rays.


Development of Critical Areas Physical development of a hill town is attributed to topography, climate, accessibility, availability of developable land, hilly tracks prohibiting large scale expansion of urban activities in ecologically sensitive areas. Hill geomorphology does not allow concentrated development of settlements. Hence the dispersal of settlement has to be encouraged.

n The stress is also laid on the preservation of the green cover. The site should be developed in such a way that felling of trees is avoided as far as possible. Military crest gives views of the valley. Buildings located here blend into the mass of the hill as viewed from great distances

n Site susceptible to high winds, storms, floods and landslides should be avoided.

Retaining wall

Figure 11 Ridge lines

Equilibrium Pile foundation The larger the cone blocked by landform, the greater the enclosure


Cutting Filling Stilts Stacking


Figure 10 Construction types on hills

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Figure 12 View shed




Building Layout on Contours The building should be placed along the contours to increase the stability of the structure and to cut down the cost on the site development. The existing form of the terrain welcomes some building forms while rejects some. In hills building break the continuity of landscape and hence appear rigid, this can be controlled by giving horizontal and vertical devices like stilts, etc (Figure 13). Terraces



Buildings with terraces allow sunlight penetration at all heights. Visual aspect does not allow more than a few stories, which helps in maintaining a human scale, proportions and integration.

Figure 13 Building layout on contours

Orientation Construction on Hills and Its Types For hard soil For moderate soil To prevent landslide For aesthetics on gentle slopes

: : : :

Cantilever Supporting members Retaining wall Terracing

Topography An essential difference between Hills and Plains is the presence of undulating topography altering the line of vision at every point of ground. This makes the visual appearance of a building very important from all distances. The changing terrain opens up unlimited possibilities of viewing and utilizing land at various levels. These offer views and the advantage of multilevel entry to the building. However, the topography also restricts the freedom in the development and planning. Symmetry or order of plan is not experienced in hills due to varying topography. The undulating topography opens up tremendous possibilities of panoramic vistas of the landscape and the mountains. Ridge Lines Ridge lines are quite expansive and are visually open zones. They offer long panoramic views and are themselves highly visible from distant areas. They do not usually afford views into the valleys. The Valley Valleys afford reduced view sheds (Figure 12). The views from the surrounding slopes are focused downwards into the valleys. There is however a zone along the upper floors that is much less visible from the distance and that affords views into the valleys. This zone is known as military crest of the ridge. The zone offers the unique opportunities as it affords nice valley views while enabling buildings to visually blend into the land form if viewed from distant locations. Ordinances that prohibit ridgeline development to minimize visual impact often allows building along the military crest. Spacing of ridges determine size of view sheds. 40

Orienting building along the north-south allows maximum sunlight. The path of the sun, controls the height of building, as the sun is needed for each dwelling unit. ECOLOGY AND ARCHITECTURE Ecology is the relationship of plants and animals to their natural surroundings. It is sad to point out that during the course of development, the contemporary architecture has played a negative role to disrupt this relationship and destroy the delicate and fragile balance of hill eco system. This has led to the problems of landslides, forest fires etc. The sensitive approach towards architecture and planning techniques can save the ecology. CONCLUSION In the hills, the elements of nature shape the spatial order and the man has to adapt himself to these forces, so he makes the shelters and the built environment in consonance with them and his cultural needs. The traditional architecture of Himachal Pradesh is the outcome of the prevailing topography, extremes of the climate and other natural forces. Indigenous architectural solutions have responded well to these natural forces. Moreover the vernacular architecture merges well with the hills at the backdrop. The traditional architecture forms the back bone of social and cultural set up of the place. These architectural splendours serve as the living heritage and add to tourist attractions. Most of these structures are showing the sign of strain and abuse. The issues of restoration and preservation are of paramount importance and need to be addressed in relation to these buildings. It is essential for this architecture to retain its integrity. So the traditional architecture should not be disturbed, rather the contemporary architecture should be integrated well with the traditional architecture. The planning techniques, which have been scientifically proved successful, for the difficult terrain of the hills should be adopted keeping in mind the sustainability aspect. As a future strategy, the people should be made aware of the scientific usage of the locally available materials to minimize the fragility of the region. IE(I) Journal--AR


5. R Wattas. ‘Interventions in Vernacular Himachal Pradesh. Architecture+Design, New Delhi, November - December, 2000.

1. J L Motloch. ‘Introduction to Landscape Design.’ John Wiley and Sons.

6. J O Simonds. ‘Landscape Architecture, A Manual of Site Planning and Design.’ McGraw Hill, New York, 1997.

2. R Chauhan. ‘Himachal Pradesh - a Perspective’. Menerva Book House, The Mall, Shimla, 1998.

7. S Khambaty and S Bhole. ‘Exploring Himachal.’ Journal of the Indian Institute of Architects, July 2004.

3. M G Singh. ‘Wooden Temples of Himachal Pradesh.’ Indus Publishing Company, New Delhi, 1999.

8. Dr R Gopal. ‘Selection, Development and Stabilisation of Sites for Building on Hills.’

4. J L Dvivedi. ‘Monastries of the Spiti Valley, Architecture Time Space and People.’ The Magazine of the Council of Architecture, New Delhi, February 2003.

9. ‘National Town and Country Planning Congress Development of Hill Capitals : Shimla-Vision 2025.’ Technical Papers of Institute of Town Planners, Peterhoff Shimla, 2003.

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