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It's Not All Just Bricks And Mortar

May 16, 2008
When we think of builders we think of bricks and mortar, steel beams, cement mixers and concrete. But each region has it's own, distinctive traditional building methods developed by local builders over the years. These largely depend on local materials and are often the outcome of trial and error, mistakes and successes.

Locally available materials have a knack of addressing local needs. Developing their use in construction is something that can take many years to perfect as the environmental, cultural and historical contexts of an area evolve. Local tradition can be important in passing on building know-how through the generations and modern architects and builders can often benefit from the aesthetic and functional discoveries that these building methods reveal.

So what are the main influences on these types of indigenous building work?

Climate is key. In cold climates, buildings will need a good deal of insulation and windows will be small, if there are any at all. In hot climates, building materials need not be so substantial and good air circulation will be a factor. Most complicated are buildings in a seasonal climate where the building will need to adapt from hot temperatures to cold.

Rainfall is significant too. Where rainfall is high, roofs are likely to be pitched high and will certainly not be flat. Where flooding is a risk, homes are sometimes built on stilts to avoid damage to the interior. In windy regions, builders will construct to avoid exposure to prevailing winds. It is not uncommon in warmer climates to build around a courtyard. This provides an external area sheltered from the sun and heat. If the courtyard also includes a pond or fountain this can provide some welcome relief from a dry atmosphere.

Local materials and environment also play a vital part. An area which enjoys plentiful wood will develop timber based methods of construction, while other areas will use local stone or even mud. Vegetation is also an option, including straw, seagrass and leaves. As long as the source of material is sustainable, local builders are able to experiment and refine their methods over many years.

Culture is an influence on local building too. Where extended families live together often there will be a central building for cooking, eating and socialising and then separate buildings for various parts of the family to sleep in. In polygamous cultures this will include separate buildings for the wives. In a western culture single dwellings are divided into separate rooms so that everyone gets some privacy while all living under the same roof and spending time together in the social areas of the home. Almost always villages will have a central meeting area of some sort for celebrations and communal activities.

Of course there is a big difference between the building techniques used in nomadic and permanent cultures. Permanent structures will tend to be made out of heavier, more durable materials as there will be an expectation that they should be strong and endure local weather conditions. Nomadic cultures need structures that can easily and quickly be constructed from local materials. These structures are either designed to be abandoned once the inhabitants move on, or are designed to be taken to the next destination. Tents and other lightweight dwellings are relatively easy to transport, especially if domesticated animals are helping to carry the load.

Local building methods address the needs and the resources of a local area. Often not formally designed, these dwellings provide shelter from the elements as well as spaces for people to socialise in and other spaces where they can enjoy privacy. The building methods involved develop over many years and may be altered according to changing needs. And the process is probably most different to our ideas of building as it is just as likely for people to build their own dwelling as it is for a local builder to get the job.
About the Author
Expert builder India Cooper discusses how local building methods around the world have developed to suit local needs and materials and how the methods of builders in different regions have evolved. To find out more please visit http://www.ratedpeople.com/find/builder
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