Dr. S.L. Marbaniang
The Government of Meghalaya has recently agreed to allow buildings to be raised to higher heights in urban areas. The conditions laid down with regard to safety measures have been specifically laid down, one of it being provision for parking of vehicles, especially in case of shopping complexes. Everything has to be properly designed and planned with the help of qualified architects.
The decision of the Government has drawn wide criticism for many quarters. Shillong city, or for that matter the whole state itself, lies in a seismic zone with the probability of an earthquake of high intensity occurring at any time. The recent tragic incident at Somdei, Tokyo in Japan were tens of thousands of its citizens have perished with many more missing. Fortunately, however the incident occurred at day time. The intensity was one of the most severe, at 8.9 Richter scale. The matter was further compounded by tsunami which carried away buildings, ships, trains, bridges, etc. to oblivion. Nuclear reactors have leaked which may cause impending disaster. Lives of countless people, especially officers, scientists, and staff of these reactors are in great danger, who try to prevent from explosion and hence more deadly consequences.
Japan used to experience frequent earthquakes and tremors. So houses are well planned and generally made of wood or bamboos with tiled roofs. However, in cities and towns, the mode of living has changed drastically. To accommodate the increasing population, as well as the booming industries, apartment houses have replaced the small homes, due to shortage of land and space. Bamboo furniture and accessories have given way to modern appliances made of steel and other materials. The people are very courteous, polite and friendly. When they bid the guests farewell, they usually make formal bows, saying “Sayonara”, which means “Good-by”. At the same time, members of the family will tell the guests repeatedly, ‘Mata dozo”, which means “Come again”.
In brief, these hospitable and hard-working people have always been prepared for earthquake. This time, however, the magnitude was unforeseen and the tsunami that accompanied it was beyond expectation. During the Second World War, the country which allied itself with the Axis Powers of Germany and Italy was greatly devastated. To break the pride and valour of the Japanese people and to expedite ending of the war, the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in which hundreds of thousands of people perished and many suffered from the after-effects of radiation. But their indomitable spirit and dogged determination, together with generous American aid, put Japan on the World map of the more developed nations. This time too they will once again rise from the ashes.
The questions that may he asked after all the rabbles and confusion will be cleared are many and varied. But the one thing that has saved much more lives and properties was that since the nation was prepared for any eventual disaster, was because the cities and towns were planned. Buildings and infrastructures have been constructed as per the latest and the best architecture. Therefore, taking this view into consideration, hopefully and thankfully the rest of the world ought to learn the lesson. On our State, complacency is usually the rule.
In 1897, severe earthquake hit the southern slopes of east Meghalaya, especially Shella region, as well as Shillong. At that time, houses in rural areas were simple structures made of wood with thatched roof. In Shillong nearly all the houses, residential as well as office complexes, were made of wood and covered with CGI sheets. These were the Assam-type houses. So damage to lives was minimal, though properties were destroyed; hills and slopes were washed away down the gorges along with horticulture crops and standing trees. The pertinent question, nevertheless, at the moment is how prepared is Meghalaya for the predicted earthquake; or for that matter how many of its citizens take serious note of it?
The manners in which the houses are being constructed at the top of the sliding plates of hills and at the edges of the precipice are indeed, beckoning for catastrophe to happen with worst outcome. Haphazard high-rise structures with very few narrow exits, surrounded by strong and reinforced cement and fabricated steel will hardly allow few people to escape, if and when disaster strikes. Electrical wiring connections are faulty. Many constructions have encroached into public roads and footpaths. A simple glance at all these buildings structures will reveal as if there is no controlling authority at all. People too are totally devoid of any civic sense. When disaster strikes, houses and occupants will not only be its victims but also passers-by on the street below because the buildings might collapse on them.
Officers and personnel of the Civil Defense and Home Guard Department, Government of Meghalaya are to be lauded in their efforts to sensitize people who have imparted awareness programmes on natural disaster management. Such exercises are greatly welcome, indeed and much more is expected to be done. All segments of the population are to be on guard in this connectioin. As they used to say, “Forewarned is forearmed”, at least some measures have been initiated and that is quite a consolation. Schools, offices and industries are places where large group of people assemble. Therefore, if calamity occurs, the number of victims will be more. As precaution, these establishments are to be acquainted with safety measures through training and exercises to be imparted by professionals.
All said and done, however, the main root cause to be tackled is in the style and design of building structures. Hence the great need for scientific and qualified expertise in the field of architecture. Unless buildings are planned and designed by architects, which meet the present needs, authorities ought not to approve. An architect is a person who designs and supervises the construction of buildings or other large structures. The word is of Latin origin, “arkhitekton” which means master builder.
Architecture is the art and science for designing and construction of buildings. Since ancient times, architecture was recognized by kings and emperors who like to have high rise buildings, pyramids and memorials dedicated to them and to the gods and goddesses that they worship. As time progresses, so also the knowledge of architecture. From clay and sands as raw materials, nowadays steel and glass structures have become a feature of cities throughout the world.
Pyramids were constructed in the lower Nile Valley of Egypt as early as 2650-2150 B.C. the famous Step Pyramid at Saqqara was designed by Imhotep.A high priest and the first architect to be so acknowledge. Then came the Greeks during 700-400 BC. Followed by the Romans during 200 BC- 500 A.D. As science and technology advanced, architecture too showed its magnificence, depending on the ideas conceived and designed by professionals of the different era.
Christian churches were modeled differently from the religious architecture of Greece and Rome. Because Christians worshipped together, both males and females, so the church architects adopted the designs, not of temples, but of the Roman public halls called basilicas. This meant that wide open space with enough light to penetrate through the windows for the worshippers to be at ease. Till today, many churches are built in this manner.
After Christianity became the official religion of the State in 326 AD, under the patronage of the Emperor Constantine, many churches were constructed to accommodate the increasing number of worshippers. Subsequently, bigger and more majestic places of worship were designed and built. So there appeared Gothic churches which soared into the sky developed first in France. These types of churches look as if they are trying to reach into heaven. Large churches, known as cathedrals were built in the cities and big towns were bishops had his throne.
Meanwhile, in the sandy deserts of Arabia, Islam appeared and spread which was preached by Prophet Mohammed (570-632). As the new religion swept across the vast sandy lands of Arabia into its neighbouring regions up to North Africa, they also developed their own style of architecture to suit the local conditions and by using locally available raw materials. Their architecture was designed to allow cool air inside the prayer halls as in the big residential palaces of their rulers and of the noble families, as well as those of the rich and well-to-do families.
The Ancient Hindu civilization also developed their own style of architecture. After the Muslims invaded India, different dynasties incorporated into the new country of adoption some of their own old styles and cultures from time to time. During the long period of the Mughuls, the architecture became a blend of various backgrounds.
The British, who ruled India for nearly 200 years after the Battle of Plessey, first from Kolkata as the head-quarter of their vast empire and then shifted to Delhi, contributed much to the growth and development of the country and its people. Buildings were constructed with the latest technical know-how and using the local materials. The architecture of many historical places in Old Delhi is a reminder of the Mughal period with Islamic designs whereas those Delhi were built mostly by British architects. Old Delhi offers many interesting places of interest to the tourists.
Taj Mahal at Agra Uttra Pradesh was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz who was buried there. Subsequently, he was buried along side his wife. It was said that to prevent duplication of the architecture design by his architects and builders, the Emperor cut away their fingers and gave them compensatory pensions for the rest of their lives.
A peep at the history of various civilizations, it will be found that, whatever their degree of advance, each had developed its own style of architecture in designing and constructing buildings, palaces, entertainment theatres, places of worship and historical structures which depict their degree of intelligence and scientific awareness.
In view of the act which was recently introduced in the Assembly during the Budget Session, 2011, it is, therefore, imperative that all citizens should adhere strictly to the rules and regulations. These are necessary because, in a democracy, the rights and privileges of all the inhabitants are to be respected and protected. To cope with the probable earthquake, all high-rise structures ought to be planned and designed by approved architects of the state.