WHEN snowbound roofs caved in across the valley on January 6, Kashmir’s first woman architect, Ishrat Nowshehri took to her social media handle to censure people for constructing “ill-designed” structures.
The ace architect joined the debate when several Kashmiris were rushing up to their rooftops on a frantic snow-clearance bid.
The thoughtless construction boom bereft of expert advice, she said, was one of the reasons behind the roof mishap.
As someone who has designed some top—syncretic—structures including Kashmir University’s Sheikh-ul-Alam Chair building, Ishrat is counted among the best in building designs in Kashmir. Her design for the Kashmir Haat in Srinagar won her a government award in 2005.
In an exclusive chat with Kashmir Observer, the “Finest architect in Srinagar at New Delhi” awardee offers her building insights in the backdrop of the recent snow-triggered structural collapse.
Is Kashmir’s modern architecture prone to disaster?
No, it only lacks proper professional guidance.
But after some of these new houses fell like a pack of cards recently, many are wondering as what has changed for the otherwise weather-immune architecture of Kashmir?
Nothing has changed except a growing reliance on nativity and lack of expert assistance.
If you observe vernacular form of architecture, you will clearly see the European, Iranian and Turkish patterns there.
We’ve many examples in Kashmir like Jamia Masjid located in the heart of Srinagar and the settlement along the river Jhelum.
Not only are these structures architectural marvels, but also sturdy shelters for Kashmiris.
Since much of that architecture has faded now, what’s triggering this roof meltdown in our modern houses?
Blame it on the poor design and construction, and lack of maintenance and building code requirements.
See, the roof slope is major factor in preventing snow damage and safety issues on the ground. A shallow slope allows snow to linger on the roof and increase the strain on the building envelope.
An extremely high slope could allow a large amount of snow and ice to fall at once. This goes for buildings with multiple rooflines, peaks, valleys, and dormers too.
All of these tend to create valleys and back slopes that can collect snow and act as the weak points leading to roof failures.
What’s carpenter’s role in preventing this crisis?
Carpenter can only follow the site drawings and instructions from an architect.
He has to just prepare a network of trusses, which act as the backbone of the roof.
As you mentioned in your recent social media post as well, how much snow load should a residential roof carry?
Well, first of all, a load is something borne, carried, or supported by a building structure. And only a proper design is the key to establish sound, snow, and wind load capacity for your building.
There is a building code to determine the snow load for your area and most people unfortunately take it for granted. It depends on the building type, location, occupancy, and primary use.
The building roof should at least support 9 kilogram per square feet load.
What would you suggest to the people before constructing buildings now?
Well, they should definitely consult architects for designing buildings.
Architects ensure proper functioning, safety, appearance and budgeting of buildings. They are involved from the initial concept to final site drawings of the complete structure.
But then, not everyone can afford architects?
I suppose one reason people don’t hire an architect in Kashmir has to do with the fees.
They either don’t sense the value for the investment, or they think they can do it themselves.
But the fact is, there’s nothing a layman can do to make a safe structure except consulting an architect.
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