Conflict and Natural Disasters
Thesis: Traditional construction in earthquake areas
I am doing my research thesis on the systems of construction in the traditional Ahmedabad houses, with reference to their earthquake resistance. My aim is to study traditional construction of Ahmedabad in order to establish capability of structures to resist earthquakes.

The walled city [old city] of Ahmedabad which came into being on east bank of Sabarmati River, houses structures using traditional techniques of construction. There are several lessons to be learnt in the systems of making the old city, from plan organization of streets to construction of individual houses.
These are the very structures that have survived several natural calamities that devastated newer parts of the city and if the indigenous techniques of building are not studied, vital information about how to build in Ahmedabad would be lost.

The grouping of houses into a pol is typical of Gujarat and especially of Ahmedabad. A pol is made of elementary rectangular units evolved linearly along the street (parallel wall grouping system) with minimum surface area towards the street. These units are narrow, deep and consist of two bodies with courtyard in between and linked up by passageways. The general rule in making of these units is that the rear body is higher than the body looking on to the street.

The walled city buildings have a specific manner of construction using brick and wood placed in dense street formation giving an opportunity to study structural systems for earthquake resistance in Ahmedabad.

The parallel wall grouping system gives rise to three different structural conditions, namely: 1. The corner type, 2. The shared wall type, 3. The Haveli type.
The analysis of these three conditions would enrich a larger understanding of them acting as a single structural type: the pol. This structural behavior of the pol would help clarify the yet unclear understanding of structural systems in traditional construction of Ahmedabad.

The quest of this study is to find out whether these traditional structural systems provide a greater degree of resistance to earthquakes. The idealized modeling of alternative interpretations of behavior and 3D simulation techniques for analysis will clarify the role of different materials and their construction systems within a structure.

If you can help me improve my research methods and examples from other regions of world that will be great for me.

Akbar Modan
Thesis: Traditional construction in earthquake areas
Hi Akbar,

As this is an undergraduate research thesis, I would firstly advise you to focus and clarify your research topic further so that you can finish at the earliest. Contrary to what most students think, a focused thesis (I know it sounds negative when people say reduce your scope) is a better study. If you see lots of PhD theses, they are very specific rather than being broad and all inclusive.

Secondly, don't let feelings/intuitions cloud your judgement and case studies. One objection that could be raised to your thesis is that lot of 'traditional' structures failed in the Kutch as well as the Kashmir earthquake. On the other hand, only a handful of modern housing structures collapsed even though they shared similar designs with many non-collapsed structures. Things like construction quality have a large impact on earthquake performance of building.

However, I am not saying that your thesis is untenable. Rather, it is a valid and relevant study. One way of looking at it could involve going beyond just studying the performance of a single building during an earthquake. The primary role of earthquake engineering is to

  1. save lives
  2. save property

It is obvious that saving lives is the first priority. In this context we should also take into account distances from furthest point to the exit of a building as an important consideration in earthquake resistant architecture. People in multi-story housing probably didn��t have enough time to escape, whereas in single or two story houses people were able to run to safety. What can we learn from this and how can we apply this to multi-story housing? Another aspect of this would be the time taken for full collapse. Are some materials or systems prone to collapse without adequate warning?

Tackling issues of indeterminacy could be another subject you could touch upon. I am sure that if you were to ask structural designers to analyse the behaviour of a pol as a single entity, they might argue that it is difficult due to many factors that make calculations indeterminate. However, such buildings exist and their performance during earthquakes is observable. In such cases can you map deviations from determinable forms and correlate them with levels of performance? How do we deal with indeterminate structures while evaluating earthquake performance?

You could also focus on design vs. construction quality in relation to performance of buildings. If you are going to model building performance using some software, can you also model relative effects of poor construction and poor design? It would be interesting to find out how good designs with bad construction quality fare in comparison to buildings with bad designs but good construction.

That is all I can think of offhand. I would also advice you to keep writing on a daily basis. Remember, the first draft is never the final draft and hence you have to eventually rewrite it. If you accept that, you can start writing immediately rather than leaving it for the last month or so. Writing the whole thesis in one continuous setting is never advisable. You might end up missing a few things, or getting lost in the details. Always write a few paragraphs or sentences on a regular basis even if they are not tied to each other. Eventually, all those isolated thoughts and writings will help you when you make your first draft.

All the best!

Vishwanath Kashikar
Thesis: Traditional construction in earthquake areas
Vishwanath, I really enjoyed reading your posting, particularly your last seven lines about writing down ones' thoughts as they occur and then later drawing together these notes in a draft.

I enjoyed it as this is how I have been thinking and writing for most of my adult life. In practical terms, I write down any thought that occurs and throw it in a holding file.

Later when the file begins to bulge. I get out all of the notes, doodles, etc and either put them into files I already have or make new files. Then when these semi-filtered files bulge, I can open one up and sort out the thoughts, either junking, keeping intact or rewriting; and I then write a rough draft essay to collect many or all of these thoughts together. :)))
Frank John Snelling
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