The Thirteenth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2011
Berkeley Prize 2011

Hriday Gami Proposal

Ecology of Wood Traditions

Wood- Society, Culture and Technology:

The tools of woodwork reflect the development of the society, science and technology. The material, for many centuries, was worked on by hand; the understanding of the material was entirely embodied in the carpenter’s actions. The wearing off of the chisel, hammer and saw hold clues to the way of working in each craftsman. Working with wood, along with the tools, suggest techniques that have evolved over a centuries and have also assimilated themselves within social orders that reflect man’s relationship with wood. In India for example, where the ‘Varna’ (class) system ascribes professions, the ‘suthars’ (carpenters) have organized themselves as a community that carry forward a deep seated knowledge from generation to generation.

With the advent of the Industrial revolution the material and its applications have undergone a transformation, and can also be said to be largely universal, but cultures have maintained specificity in the manner in which it is cut, joined and assembled. The precision and technique of a culture are embedded strongly in the artifact, even after the influence of mechanization and standardization of tools and processes. The distinct aesthetic qualities of each culture are still retained due to the supple nature of wood.

As part of the architecture program at CEPT University, Ahmedabad I have been familiarized with the importance of wood as a material, and its various contexts. Gujarat is known for its woodwork in the ‘haveli’s’ and houses. At CEPT students and faculty are involved with in-depth inquiries into the culture and technology of wooden architecture in the form of design as well as research and conservation across various regions of India.

The houses in the walled city of Ahmedabad are primarily constructed from timber and brick, with remarkable carvings on the facades. Timber is used in a post and beam construction system with common walls. The dimensioning system used was in multiples of the available lengths of members, and a system was evolved such that there was no residual timber. Due to the ingenuity of the system the houses were able to resist a massive earthquake in 2001. The plinths are made in a manner that has avoided flooding even in the worst of monsoons.

Through the course of the practical training program I have studied and worked with carpenters in Kerela. Kerela has a rich tradition of wooden architecture, being involved for centuries in timber trade with Southeast Asia. Extremely articulate temples and houses are constructed with wood in this equatorial climate. The carpenters follow a measuring system that pre-dates the metric and imperial systems. To understand the traditional methods of working and to induce the possibilities of modern thinking into the traditional system was the intent of the program. Along with this I have been part of a program that involved an understanding of the construction of timber and stone houses in Sarahan, in the Satluj Valley in Himachal Pradesh.

Wood- Modernity and Sustainability:

In modern times, wood is seen as a material that aesthetically and environmentally contributes to developments in architecture. Wood if intelligently used, with sufficient regeneration, can be revived as a refined and sustainable material for construction. Since its properties are region specific, it propagates a local/regional perspective of developing architecture. Along with the revival of the material, a revival of the craft can be achieved with a balance of mechanized and manual processes.

The struggle will be to evolve an ecological approach towards the utilization of this resource. The ‘Wood in Construction and Architecture Program’ at Aalto University, Helsinki intends to cultivate an understanding of Finnish sensibilities with regard to wood. The program consists of three parts, hands on design and construction of a timber structure, the study of historically and structurally important timber works and lectures on timber theory. The program is an opportunity to engage in the wood traditions of a region very different from India and to explore the possibility of wood connection between the two regions, to study timber as a material across cultures. Making of a structure will be helpful in getting an insight into the finer nuances of the Finnish methods and techniques of woodwork.

The summer school requires a pre-course report on wooden architecture of the native region of the students in conjunction with the Finnish aspects of wood. It also invites a perspective on wood from various countries across geographical regions, and given my exposure at CEPT University, I am confident that the program will be of immense help in widening the scope for a further study of wooden architecture in the Indian subcontinent. I view this course as an opportunity to share and amalgamate traditional knowledge and modern technology, and would be keen on deriving a new dimension in wooden architecture for the tropical region as a future endeavor. I sincerely look forward to a positive response to my proposal.

Course Coordinator: Mr. Pekka Heikkinen, Aalto University, Otaniemi Campus, Paja - workshop. Address: Metallimiehenkuja 4, Otaniemi, Espoo

Helsinki Summer School Website:

Itinerary: • August 5th- Flight (Delhi-Helsinki) • August 9th- Program (Wood in Construction and Architecture) commences (Detailed itinerary of the program is not finalized by the host university) • August 25th- End of program • August 27th- Flight (Helsinki-Delhi)

Budget: • Course Fee- 625$ • Registration Fee- 139$ • Round trip flight – Delhi-Helsinki-Delhi – Aeroflot 737$ (As of 08.03.11) • Accommodation – Euro hostel 650$ • Boarding – 30$ per day- approximately 900$ TOTAL-3051$

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