Thursday, October 31, 2013


A specification is the ‘best possible definition or explanation at a given time, for a given situation’. / Specifying our experiences is a process of continuous improvisation and rationalization. / One needs to discover and define the process for occurrence. When a description consists of both, the physical characteristics and the processes, sequenced in time, it becomes a Specification.

Our experience about things around us is a continuously evolving process. The more we become familiar with a situation, greater revelations come to us. By remembering or recording the experiences, we hope to have greater understanding. Records of the experiences help in recollection or re-enactment of the happening of the past. To record the experience we detail or specify it. Specifying our experiences is a process of continuous improvisation and rationalization. A specification is the ‘best possible definition or explanation at a given time, for a given situation’.

Specification at a very basic level could be a description of a thing or happening. The description of a thing lists the physical qualities such as size, weight, shape, colour, feel, etc. Whereas the description of a happening includes the changes occurring in the thing itself, as well its surroundings, both, of which are profiled or sequenced in 'constant time' (same time sections).

A description alone may not prove sufficient for reproducing a thing or happening. One needs to discover and define the process for occurrence. When a description consists of both, the physical characteristics and the processes, sequenced in time, it becomes a Specification.

A specification that has been tried for recollection or re-enactment, and with reasonable success for every attempt, becomes a standard specification. A standardised specification provides a satisfactory or assured result.


Fear about a thing unknown or less known, makes a person prudent, so specifications of novel creations or new experiences, tend to be minimal and negative. Gradually, with realization of all causes and effects, the initial Negative Specification becomes elaborate and affirmative statement or Positive Specifications.

Though for many neither of the processes is effective, as Negative specifications are too thin and Positive specifications too elaborate and technically complex. A reliable and secure way out of such a dilemma is to look for a Comparative Condition somewhere, and relate to it.

  •     Negative
  •     Affirmative or positive
  •     Comparative.
  • Negative specifications: When goods and materials are comparatively new and their effects are not fully known, ignorance and fear dominate. Negative specifications, therefore mention, undesirable aspects that must be avoided. Negative specifications relate to things that are harmful, unpredictable and debilitative for life. All specifications initially tend to be Negative, but gradually become Affirmative. Negative specification may, however, remain an ‘independent statement with insufficient corroboration’. Negative specifications are eliminating, and so allow a vast degree of openness. Results or creations, through negative specifications may prove to be unexpected and even detrimental.
  • Affirmative or Positive specifications: Affirmative Specifications come into being, when things are fairly well known, and their affective aspects are well documented. Affirmative specifications list out the desirable aspects that goods or materials are endowed with. Affirmative specifications also come into being when objects are beneficial and supportive of life. A Specification becomes affirmative on being corroborated through detailing of all sub aspects or parts. Affirmative specifications gain their clarity through cross references or dependency on similar other specifications. Affirmative specifications are very strict, rigid, complete and positive, so allow little variations, alterations or improvisations. As a result these do not seem very innovative. However, results are better guaranteed in known situations.
  • Comparative specifications: Comparative Specifications are dependent specifications. An item is imitated or referenced because an assurance is available. Here the object is perceived to be like the original. People who are technically incompetent to define a problem or its context (a lay person trying to procure a technologically complex system, without any help), follow such a strategy. People tend to buy a branded or its equivalent things, because there is an assurance of it being fail-safe. An original may be perfect in its own, but the same in a different context or environment may precipitate unseen problems. It is very difficult to search for a root cause of a fault, or a deficiency through such specifications. Comparative specifications are usually not innovative or creative.


Specifications have many different forms. Oral instructions or messages are the simplest way of conveying details. These are ordered or delivered in chronological order, or at least have some cause-effect arrangement, and so seem action-oriented. Substantial amounts of specifications occur as written or recorded documents. Where documents are complex and bulky, these include methods for access, reference, and interpretation.

Primary way of specifying a thing is through its sizes. Beyond these come the sensorial aspects and physical qualities of the object. The definition of constituents and production processes form the substantial section of Traditional Specifications.

For specifying a happening, time definitions such as, rate and quantum of change are required. Items flourishing for their Performance (output-input, yield rate, productivity, etc.) require checks and evaluation processes and operational assurances through guarantees and warranties.

  •     Specifications of Technical Nature: Specifications of technical nature depend  on drawings and flow charts -scaled representations and also surrogate representations using symbols, metaphors, etc. Drawings show size, shape, scale and such other physical details, but cannot show the sensorial aspects like weight, speed, odour, warmth, etc. Drawings, therefore require a written backup. Specifications are sometimes delivered as scaled models such as art cartoons, mock-ups, dummies, samples, pilots, etc., or full-size replicas. Technical drawings, models show only physical details, but require backup with written explanations, regarding the materials' and other aspects.


  •    Brand-name Specifications: These are restrictive kind of specification limiting  the bidding to a single product. The only competition will be between various suppliers of the same products line.
  •   Brand-name or its Equivalent Specifications: These specifications cite one or more brand-names, model identity or other details to identify certain category of products. The vendor is asked to supply the product mentioned or show that offered product is indeed identical. The procuring agency reserves the right to determine equivalents. Brand-name or its equivalents have perhaps a legitimate ground but very limited place in public affairs.

  •     List of Qualified Products (QPL): Such lists are produced by Government’s agencies for purchase of commonly used items by various departments.  Such lists are periodically updated and often have standard price tags. Vendors quote for such an approved item as + or - the standard price tag. The criteria and the methods for establishing and maintaining a QPL is usually in public domains.
  •         In India, The Central Purchase Organization DGS&D (Directorate General of Supplies & Disposals) typically creates manuals  of such goods with approved rates. The term goods used in this manual apply generally to all articles, material, commodities, livestock, furniture, fixtures, raw material, spares, instruments, machinery, equipment, industrial plant etc. purchased or otherwise acquired for the use of Government but excluding books, publications, periodicals, etc. for a library.  

  •     Design Specifications: Design specifications mention dimensional and other physical requirements of the item. Design here means a method or scheme of creating or putting together an item. It is the most traditional kind of specification. Design specifications are prescription of what an entity should be in its completed form. These are also called Item Specifications, as the design details are itemised in terms of the execution, material’s technology or mode of execution. Design specifications show how the item must be created, and often with the additional information (but, usually less effectively) what the final product is intended to be (goal, dreams, perception). Here the problems arise, because a manufacturer or supplier is emphatically told what and how to produce or deliver. In most cases this means a demand for a very customised Item. It leaves no chance for the manufacturer or supplier to offer, technologically or economically superior item, or even one from their own standard range. 
  • Performance Specifications: Performance specifications list the expectations  how an entity should function or what it must deliver. Here the user communicates the requirements as to What will be an acceptable product, and How the adequacy of the product will be judged. The performance specification is more related to how a product performs or functions and at what cost, and less related to its dimensions, materials or configuration. The vendor gets substantial freedom in offering the most appropriate technology. For such specifications it is mandatory to explain in detail the results required and how these will be checked. All performance requirements must be matched with tests for adequacy. There is a tendency to demand performance requirements that are very high in comparison to actual projections, which leads to cost escalation.
  • Problems arise when test methods for judging adequacy of a product could require a 'Destructive Testing' or a 'Laboratory or Plant-based facility'. Full activation or critical testing of an atomic reactor may not be feasible, or a long term performance of material cannot be checked in any set-up. The provision of assurance by the supplier becomes very important.
  •     Operational specifications: Operational specifications have lesser bearing on how an item is created or procured, but relate to the working of a system. These relate to the functioning of the item, and for that reason product formation, delivery, installation processes must have built in strategy for operation or conduction with optimum efficiency. Operational specifications are not performance specifications but details about mitigating risks arising out of operation of a system.
            I have number of articles on this and related subjects. Depending on the level of response ( or )I may place it here

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


The spaces have two distinctions: Exterior and Interior.

The exterior has two distinct zones: One where the extent is endless and beyond the perception limits, and, Two where the edges limit the perception creating ‘neighbourhood spaces’. A ‘wild exterior space’ due to its uncertain character and infinite size, cannot be possessed. A neighbourhood space lacks the settings and environment for any task other then the casual social interaction.

The interior spaces are enclosed entities. The outward sensorial reach beyond the edge of the interior space does not affect either the wild or neighbourhood exterior spaces. However, other way around, Interior spaces are affected by all the happenings in exteriors. An interior space is controlled and a domesticated entity, and so allows a set of activities.

The enclosures of the interior spaces have varied levels of transparencies. The openings in the shell allow escapes at many places.  The transgressions across the enclosure occur as outward push and inward pull of the interior space. The outward push or encroachments are often ‘costless’, though may ‘load’ the enclosure (shell) body. It increases the interior volume and permits a restrained exterior. The inward intrusions, however, consume interior space or estate and reduce the nett enclosed space.

All transgressions add extra surface over the enclosure body, with or without a proportional increase in volume. Both types of transgressions, inward and outward reach, make the interior spaces vibrant.
  •     Examples of outward transgressions: Galleries, balconies, Chhatris, campanile, bay-windows, oriel-windows, dormers, Mashrabiya, verandahs, skylights, etc.

  •     Examples of inward transgressions: Cut out, Chowks, courtyards, Liwan, setbacks, cutbacks, shafts, light-wells, etc.


A wild exterior space defined by the markings is an infinite realm. It cannot be a setting for personal or interpersonal behaviour. One can perhaps realise a potential to possess it. The act of possession requires definitions like bounding to define a space entity. The bounding are elements recognised as they exist as anchors or starting points. Where such points do not exist, new ones are created.
  •     Planting trees in a row, digging a trench, clearing a land, fencing, planting posts at corners, scrapping tree barks, placing distinctive patterns or configurations with stone, leaving extinguished fire with a visible heap of ash,  leaving excreta, are some of the elements and methods to indicate possession or occupation.
An exterior space with potential for possession does not become a setting for habitation till it is further sub-zoned into locations for various tasks. The sub-zones are attached to the bounding elements and so closely identified with the environment available there. Neighbourhood exterior spaces have such sub-zones.   
  •      Primitive-men started their settlement with not just space for the families, and safe place for fire, storage of tools, food, water, place for craft, etc., but also a place for skinning and cleaning the kill. The later was dirtiest task and generated foul leftovers. These set the activities that were interior vs exterior.
Neighbourhood spaces have paths and open spaces that both connect as well as separate various habitable spaces. Here it is not the distance but the degree of dependence that forms unified neighbourhood space. The dependence is need based as much as it is perception based. One may not know or formally meet the neighbour for years, or ever, but the perception someone is staying in vicinity is a great social comfort. Very often even the presence of a man-made object provides the same comfort.


An interior entity is recognised by its enclosure. A very strong enclosure creates an isolated space, with very limited relevance. However, translucency of the enclosure brings in environmental variations to the  interior. The interior space and the timed environmental variations create a wide variety of purposive settings.

Interior spaces have many variegated sub-entities within. The prime variation causing element is the orientation specific and partly predictable environment. The degree of translucency of the enclosing elements adds several alternatives to this. Other variations are related to the use and are specific to perception and adoption.

The form and format of an interior space are unitary and consistent, but the subsections show minor, local and temporary variations. Peripheral zones become a multilateral entity reflecting the environmental variations. Where such variations become extensive and a permanent a new spatial entity comes into being. For example, cooking-dining, kitchen-bathing, entrance-living room, etc. have been adjunct as well as segregated entities, at different times and within same era for different social reasons.

An interior space however, isolated and insulated cannot exist without the environment. But it is not always necessary for the internal space and external segment to be concurrent in time and space. One can conceive the Interior or Exterior alone, without the other being present in time and space proximity. The virtual immediacy of the two realms is achieved by carrying across the impressions of the other. The duality of the interior and the exterior is like an antithetic zone to the other.

One can also replace the physical presence (manifesting in time or space) of the Exterior or Interior realms through their notional representations. The Internal and External spaces, can occur as a ‘metaphoric concept’ for the other.
  •    The heaven and the hell are two surrounds of the earth. Egyptians have dummy doors (drawn or carved) in their tombs. A Garbha Griha (inner sanctum) in a temple is an inner sanctum. The Japanese gate Mori is placed anywhere, in a vast open land or sea, to mark a divide. Lakshman Rekha ( Line drawn by brother of Lord Rama in Indian Mythology) was a notional boundary.
Presentation of metaphoric or symbolic elements suffices to initiate a full scale happening. Pictures or names of gods on doors protect the house. Mime shows, and Bharat Natyam dance mudra (hand gestures in Indian classical dances) enacts space through metaphors. Metaphorical declarations mark a qualitative change, and are used to compensate the territorial presence of physical and metaphysical elements.

Interior spaces have varied zones. An insulated and less affected segment, of an interior space is its core segment. A core segment is nominally centric.  At the core segment, metaphysical elements like concepts, beliefs, taboos, etc. that reflect the essence of the inhabitation are stronger. Whereas metaphorical elements like signs, symbols flourish towards the peripheral segment.

Interior spaces are recognised for their potential for functionality (size, shape), environmental control and sensorial adequacy. Sometimes these spaces are designed to alienate the users from the expected set of things. Such diversions are used to excite, to register the change (mark of new and end of old) and also to destabilize the users.


Interior space seeks to be a spatial organization for specific environmental conditions and class of users. However, for circumstantial reasons, it is not always feasible to achieve a perfect set, in a particular space, with available technologies and in required time. To overcome such deficiencies, Interior spaces are often endowed with make-believe inputs or effects. The ‘make-believe’ is an economical (time, extent, money and effort) substitute for the original. The ‘make-believe’ also offers an exciting tool for creation of new experiences.

Make-believe also provides for surprises using conventional elements and settings. The make-believe is created by substituting elements that have strong association with specific effects, such as: materials, technologies, spatial scaling (size, proportion), or temporal skewing (enhancing or delaying the event). 

  •        Our nominal experience tells us that dark spaces are cooler and quiet or conversely bright spaces are noisier and warm, but these expectations are purposely replaced in maze or adventure tunnels in children parks. Night clubs are darker but noisier and prayer areas are brighter and yet quieter. A transparent material is not structural (non-load-bearing) and is fragile (glass acrylic), both are  belied in buildings, as dance floors. Laksha-Grih (House of Lac - combustible material) of epic Mahabharat was based on make-believe effects of materials and our sensorial conditioning. Glass and mirror have been two major materials for make-believe.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Flooring, by virtue of its sheer extent and effectuality is the most prominent component of an interior space. Flooring is a very tactile component, unlike a wall finish or a ceiling. It is used for movement of people and goods, sleeping, resting, bathing, washing, storing, food preparation, and handling and processing of materials.

Floorings provide a functional horizontal (parallel to gravity) or inclined surface. Floorings are required to stop, (by reflecting or absorbing) sound, air light, heat, cold, dust, infections, moisture, radiations etc. Some flooring systems, however, may play exactly the opposite role, i.e. to allow such elements to selectively pass through.

Like all other interior space elements, a Flooring's sensorial aspects like colour, hue, etc. are important, but its tactile aspects like texture, feeling of warmth, cold, hardness or softness, etc. are very important.

Floorings take on a very prominent role in: sparsely furnished and lightly occupied rooms and corridors. Rooms with high heights, invisible ceilings, non interesting ceilings and in rooms with sloping floors or levels rising upward (allowing larger floor area to be visible), rooms with slopes or levels going downward (allowing a commanding bird eye view). Floorings that provide a pleasant experience and enhanced comfort affect us more.

Floorings occur as composite system, that essentially consist of a structural component that `spans', a substrate mass that helps in achieving desired levels and slopes, a binding agent and the surface finish material. An ideal flooring should provide all this, as it eliminates the need to create a composite by layering various material individually providing the required services. However, the components of flooring system are required to be executed at different times and by different agencies. Some of the components like the surface finish have to be replaceable.
  • Structural Components are cast with even thickness and a level surface, and as a result are incapable of providing the minor variations in levels and drainage slopes (rain water, toilets). Often the structural components are very thin and require some cushion or insulation to take care of transmission of vibrations, noise, heat, etc.
  • Substrate mass solves many deficiencies of structural components. It also provides space for some of the service lines. A substrate mass also helps in distributing the direct loads and dampening the vibrations, thus eliminates local punctures and failures. Substrate mass protects the structural components from any adverse effect of environment and the floor finish. Substrate mass may itself may function as a binding agent. Substrate mass is softer or fragile than the structural component and the floor finish.
  • Binding Agent ma be required when the substrate mass itself is not capable of holding a surface finish or is adversely reactive to the floor finish. A binding agent is employed as a very thin layer. It is capable of providing a high bond between the bottom face of the floor finish on one hand and the substrate or the structural system on the other hand. A binding agent may supplement any barring or insulating qualities that are not being provided by the substrate material. Binding agent often penetrates the vertical sides of the flooring blocks to join and seal them. For this purpose its colour and finish both must be relevant to the floor finish. Variety of gums, adhesives and cements are used as binding agent.
  • Floor Finish is a tactile and sensually affective material. It can be broadly classified as: Hard or Resilient, Soft or Scratch resistant, Temporary or Permanent, Smooth or Textured, Dark or Light coloured, Hot or Cold, Opaque or Transparent, Absorbent or Reflective, etc.

The floors are laid as parallel or inclined to gravity, in a straight gradient or variable gradient, and moulded to single curvature or double curvatures.

Floor materials are of natural materials, processed materials or synthetic materials.
  • Natural Materials include: clays, soils, sands, stones, gravels, kankars, minerals, pozzolana, animal excretes and plant decompositions, wood, grass, leaves, etc.
  • Processed Materials include: products processed out of natural materials, baked or fired clay products, ceramics, vitrified materials, paper, textiles, plywoods, tar, creosotes, gums, resins, metals, alloys, glass, etc. 
  • Synthetic Materials include: organic and inorganic composites, polymers and other high end products which are generally produced from elements rather than natural products.

Often a single natural material or a processed material can not provide a suitable finish or body-mass that can be applied as a floor finish. A floor finish then becomes a combination system. Such systems function in layers or as a composite mass. A layered system may have two or more sub layer systems. The top layer works as the floor finish layer, the bottom layer is designed for suitable interaction with the substrate and the bonding media. The middle layer may provide the necessary stiffness, strength or the body, side layers on the edge provide necessary connectivity to similar floor finishes or other finish/ structural systems.

A floor system may be:
  •     simply laid on
  •     mechanically keyed
  •     adhesive bonded
  •     cast in situ
  • Simply laid on Flooring systems: The flooring blocks or spread rely on pull of Gravity. The largest and flat surface is placed touching the plane of gravity. in some instances stiffness of the flooring material and close fitment adds to the stability. The sheer conglomeration of several pieces increases the efficiency as a flooring. Examples are: cobbles, brick lays, gravels, sand spreads, carpets, rugs, floor spreads, daris, chattais, woven mats, feet dusters, wooden boards, synthetic flooring mats, plastic and rubber tiles and rolls.
  • Mechanically keyed Flooring systems: Floor finish incapable of staying in place on their own due to the thin mass, lighter weight, reduced gravity (on sloped surfaces), presence of other pulling forces, small extent or spread. Floor finish is in such cases mechanically keyed to the substrate or the structure. Mechanical fastening is achieved by mechanical fastening systems like nut-bolt, nails, screws, rivets, cleats, seam formation, etc. It is also done with friction, suction, surface tension, magnetic pull, electro static attraction, etc. Examples are bus floors, stage wood floors, claddings, panellings, stair carpets.
  • Adhesive bonded Flooring systems: Floor finish is stayed by affixing in three distinct ways. Several small units of floor finish are affixed edge to edge to create a larger unit, so that it can due to sheer extent stay in a place. Secondly many different materials are layer massed for a composite flooring system. Thirdly the floor finish is affixed to the substrate or structure. Examples are synthetic tiles and carpets, ceramic and mosaic tiles, fabrics, metal foils,paint or coating systems.
  • Cast in situ Flooring systems: These provide a flooring system that is uniform in quality and very extensive so almost joint less in nature. Usually such systems do not need additional bonding materials. Cast in situ floorings are created by coatings, evaporative drying, oxidization, calcification, chemical bonding, polymerization, heat, radiation and moisture induced changes. Examples are concrete floorings. Cement cast floors (IPS), cow dung, surkhi and lime combinations, synthetic or culture marble systems, fiber glass and other resin+ fiber matrix sprayable composites, organo plastics, epoxy coats, PU coats, Rubber coats, tar roads.

Flooring systems per Quality
  • Hard Systems have a rigid structure, stiffness, good wear and tear qualities. These are generally more permanent and difficult to remove and replace. Cement concrete, magnesite cement, granolithic, terrazzo, various types of stones, ceramic tiles, terracotta tiles, tar or bituminous systems, wood, synthetic wood, parquet, are examples of hard floorings.
  • Semi or moderate Hard Floorings are less rigid, slightly resilient, good to average wear & tear qualities, of average thickness, generally less permanent and replaceable. Thermoplastics (PVC, vinyl etc.), rubber, linoleum, cork, cow-dung, mud, etc. are examples of semi hard floorings.
  • Soft floorings generally used as floor covering rather than as independent floorings. Various types of woven carpets, durries, mats (jute, coir, fibre etc), knitted carpets or floor spreads, pressed fibre-non woven carpets (viscose, coir, HDPE,).
  • Colour of Flooring determines the overall brightness in a room. DARK FLOORS cut off bottom up reflection of radiation and are ideal in chowks, on window sills and spaces in front of windows, doors, verandahs. Dark floor in water pools heighten the feeling of depth, but if of shallow depth may increase the water evaporation by heat absorption. Dark floors absorb more radiant heat and get very warm, so are not preferred in walk areas or on terraces of occupied rooms. Very dark and shiny floors show off dust and require frequent cleaning.
  • Bright Floors in front of cellar windows help to brighten the dark spaces. Bright floors substantially reduce the heat absorption provided these are kept clean.

  • Coloured Floors are used in industrial plants, schools, hospitals etc. to indicate routes and movement areas for goods, vehicles and people.

Flooring colours have been monochrome where good building stones were available. Flooring colours have been exploited in sparsely occupied buildings’ sections such as corridors, passages, plazas. etc. Earliest colouring elements were mosaics of marble ceramic and glass. West Asiatic architecture had monochrome flooring of building stones and in some cases of terracotta units. Greeks used dominantly  white marbles white marbles. Greeks used mosaics to create images on the floor. Romans began to use coloured marbles as inlay pieces, to create borders and central patterns. Thermae (bath houses) were perhaps the most garish of all places in terms of flooring colour schemes. Byzantine period saw reuse of Roman marble debris. Cut pieces of coloured marbles of roman columns were used for flooring bands. Contrast and pattern definition was the only intent rather than a balanced colour scheme.

In Gothic architecture the colour through the window was so strong that flooring colour was almost subordinated. However, the quality of laying and finishing were becoming very refined. Granites were used sparingly as part of patterns. Where high colour effects were required floors were covered with carpets, rugs and floor spreads. English mediaeval period saw use of diagonal Chequered board pattern combining a lighter and darker shade of flooring material. In Post Gothic period windows became of lighter hue, interiors much more brilliant and illuminated, interior elements were painted and often gilded. These required a highly polished and a balanced colour scheme with intricate patterning. Italian business houses, which began commissioning large buildings, were very daring and allowed large scale use of exotic flooring materials.

Renaissance saw Painters and Sculptors becoming builders and architects, who were very adopt in use of colour. Marbles were selected in terms of interior colour scheme. Marble and other stones veins were oriented to accentuate the pattern.

In the 19 th C. ceramics began to be produced in variety of colours and quantity. Ceramics were hand or screen painted and re-fired to create a permanent colour and pattern. Ceramics allowed production of perfect white, chrome yellows, greens and blues, colours that were not available in natural materials. Precision sawing and finishing equipment and exotic woods of Asiatic and North and Latin American colonies encouraged use of wood. With woods came paints and stained polishes. Interior flooring colours were totally synthetic. However, joints were seen through the colours of polishes imposing unintentional pattern. Cast in situ flooring systems of mainly Cement, and now of organo plastics have eliminated the joints and its colour.

Flooring patterns are used as space defining element. In large plazas flooring pattern have been used to coordinate architectural entities of varied sizes, shapes and styles into a cohesive spatial entity. Flooring patterns have been used to scale the interiors, link spaces, segregate functional modules and impose a logical order in a trivial settings and break the regimen by adding a little frivolity.


Monday, October 21, 2013


A building consists of variety of barriers, such as the shell of the building, doors and widows, walls and roofs, for environmental control and safety.


Types of safety barricades are: Height related hazards, isolation of dangerous zones, exposure to effects of radiations, against high speed movements, security from anti social persons, theft, animals, etc.

Height related hazards require barricades. Nominally a fall of 600 mm is difficult to negotiate (climb up or down), so even for a normal adult it is considered a hazard. A provision of an intermediate step or support is required. For physically disable and infirm people a barricade may be necessary even when the height difference is only 25 mm. For situational conditions such as at the downward end of a ramp or slopping terrain, a fall of less than 300 mm requires a safety barricade. In buildings for human habitation a 900-mm minimum to 1100 mm optimum height for safety barricades like parapets, balustrades, etc., is prescribed on balconies, stair sides, and terrace edges of are prescribed. The height is often compromised to 790 mm or less by, alternatively, providing wider widths, for drama, cinema or assembly hall balcony fronts, to prevent visual obstruction to the view of the front edge of the stage.


These are preventive barricades of specific height to control the crossover movement. Effective height actually available for the barricade is determined by the nature of the surroundings. A very steep gradient in front, and difficult to negotiate terrain (moats, pits, trenches) can also act as a barricade.

Effective height of a barricade system is affected by its configuration. A horizontal mid-bar or any such element can accommodate a toe of a user, to reduce the effective height of the available barricade. To prevent children less than five from falling, gaps in the balustrades (balcony and stairs) must not allow a 100-mm diameter sphere to pass through.


As shown earlier in case of safety barriers, width of the barricade compensates the height requirement. Barricades of greater widths are also required, when a structure is required to resist horizontal stresses and thrusts, as in case of retaining walls and dams. Walls and partitions of greater width with greater bulk (low density) are created as insulation system for heat, x ray or other radiations. Wider barricades cut off the view of areas immediately close-below, an ideal provision for stepped floor balconies in sea shore resorts.


Pedestrian barricades should be taller than approximately 2/5 the height of the tallest user, as for example for a mid-road verge. Security barricades should be taller than tallest persons to be barricaded. Often the effective width of the barricade structure controls the actual height required. Barbed wire fencing of Y and T, ‘shapes are used in jails and defence installations. Pedestrian control can be effected by notional barricades, like a thin rope, a horizontal pipe, a small ledge, a floor marking.


The barricades should take in to consideration, animals’ the capacity to leap and also the ‘run depth’ available in the surroundings. Animals are confined by a variety of methods including water-filled moats, dry moats, and wire-mesh fences. Animal traps at gates have gaps to trap the animal’s feet, and width to prevent a ‘non run’ leap. Wicket gates are intentionally made of narrow width and have a non linear passageway to prevent vehicles like cycles and animals.

Traffic safety barricades are meant to be safe, stable (wide based, secured or resilient enough to revert to the original position) and visible. Traffic barricades direct the flow of traffic, prevent unauthorized entry or exit from the designated areas or lanes.

Crowd management barricades are designed for the safety and security of people, control the direction of their travel and to control their numbers. Such barricades are temporary (occasional) and permanent. The barricades are designed with the height safety standards (the nominal balustrade height and leap over prevention), but in addition have a capacity to resist horizontal thrust. Such barricades are in place at the famous temple of Tirupati Balaji, South India, and at Ambaji Temple, Gujarat.

A security barricade is meant to prevent access or exit to a specific area, such as a hazardous zone, protection from theft, and forceful entry by terrorist. Security barricades may be designed to withstand assaults such as high speed impacts like a high speed or armoured vehicle. Some of the most important security barriers include: fort walls, the Great Wall of China, Dykes in Holland, Wall dividing East and West Berlin in Germany and quadruped sections on Bombay sea shores.

  • BERLIN WALL: During the period from 1961 to 1989, East Germany built a barrier to close off the migration after about 2.5 million skilled workers, professionals, and intellectuals to west Germany. This barrier, the Berlin Wall, was first erected on the night of Aug. 12–13, 1961. The original wall, built of barbed wire and cinder blocks, was subsequently replaced by a series of concrete walls up to 5 mts high, that were topped with barbed wire and guarded with watchtowers, gun emplacements, and mines. By the 1980s this system of walls, electrified fences, and fortifications extended 45 km through Berlin, dividing the two parts of the city, and extended a further 120 km around West Berlin, separating it from the rest of East Germany.
  • The Berlin Wall came to symbolize the Cold War's division of East from West Germany and of eastern from western Europe. Yet, about 5,000 East Germans managed to cross the Berlin Wall (by various means) and reach West Berlin safely, while another 5,000 were captured by East German authorities in the attempt and 191 more were killed during the actual crossing of the wall.
  • During October 1989 during the wave of democratization swept through eastern Europe and on November 9 the East German government had to open the country's borders with West Germany (including West Berlin). East Germans could travel freely now to the West.


Guard rails are used to prevent vehicles from veering off a road into oncoming traffic, crashing against solid objects (like a bridge pillar) or falling into a ravine. Guard rails are designed with an objective to keep the vehicle upright while it is deflected along the guard rail. Vehicle barriers are generally taller than ½ the diameter of the wheel. A tall guard rail of ideal height for a car, though may not keep a truck from toppling over it, whereas a thin vehicle like a motorbike may slip under a high rail. Vehicle barriers on bridge sides, auto-ways, should be capable of resisting (strength) and deflecting (shape) the impact of cars, lorries, etc.

One-way streets and gates have small stepped fall at entry points to prevent exit of the vehicles. Wharfs, boats and ships use rubber buffers or tyres as preventive barriers against impact and rubbing.


Barricades are required in openings like Doors, Windows, Gaps, etc. These are required for fall related hazards and for controlling the entry or exit of human beings, animals, pets, flies and insects, and mosquitoes. Barriers are also required for environmental controls, such as heat, solar radiation, breezes, odours, audio. Barriers such as the louvres are required in openings to control vision in and out.

Barricades for a fall-related hazard are required if the sill level is lower than height required for a balustrade in a similar position. Barricades are also required if a piece of furniture against an opening like a window is likely to reduce the effective sill level. Barricades within the doors are required in nursery areas, stair ways, etc. where infants are likely to crawl.


Soft barricades of cloth, plastic or fibre tapes and ropes are used as a visual boundary or indicative barrier by police and military to isolate sensitive zones.


Monday, October 14, 2013


Barriers are obstructing and intervening entities in buildings and outside in nature. Barriers through their configuration, position and occurrence affect things passing by, touching, or going  through them. Barriers rarely operate on their  own, so are distinguished by the context or the surroundings where they operate. Barriers operate as multi functional entity doing many intended and unintended things.

Barriers change the environment on both the sides. Barriers have a capacity to obstruct, absorb, filter and reflect, and so cause distinctly different conditions on the other side. However, barriers are often so extensive that the modified environment is not recognised, as the perceiver has no idea of, what the original (one beyond the barriers or without the barriers in position) experiences were. Barrier systems, as a result, are evident at the joints, thresholds, ends, edges, cut sections, or at the gaps.

Barriers are selectively opaque to transparent for various energies and objects. A lattice may allow a rat or insect to pass through but not a cat or dog. A membrane filter can allow gas but not any particulate matter. A barrier system, by deflecting, reflecting, by absorbing within its own body, does not let certain things to pass through them.

A barrier is a separator that not only divides an entity. It allows a new set of cultures to flourish on both the sides. However man-made barriers are not powerful enough to cause extensive changes in the environmental system within which they occur.


Natural barriers are like rivers, mountains, ridges, valleys or atmosphere. Natural barriers are very extensive in space, and long lasting in time. Natural barriers are territorial, affect macro or micro regions, and also temporal in terms of occurrence like, eternal, seasonal, diurnal, etc. The start and end of natural barriers are not always within the relevant time and space scale. Natural barriers start or become effective somewhere and imperceptibly end or become ineffective somewhere. Natural barriers as a result are often not experienced because the other side experience (without the barrier) is not possible due to their large spread. Natural barriers  are overlapped  by other natural barrier systems, so have  no distinct definition.


Atmospheric barrier systems are natural barriers formed by the constituents of the atmosphere such as: air, moisture, breeze, winds, radiation, temperature, etc. For example, air or its gases control the level of radiation penetration, the moisture checks the amount of dust in the air, and presence of dust and other particles helps distribution of illumination. The atmospheric barriers are very extensive, consisting of over lapping layers, and so do not have the sharp edge definition. Some of these barriers are very acute and causative, while others are mild and almost irrelevant. Atmospheric barriers are so common and omnipresent that we many times take them for granted. Some effects of the atmospheric barriers are so fast or short lived that it becomes very difficult to notice or learn any thing about them.


Man-made barriers are finite in size, designed for specific function and alterable. Man-made barriers occur as barricading elements such as: Curbs, embankments, Guard, Railing, Fender, Shield, Buffers, Balustrades, Fence, Parapet, Rampart, Bumpers, Cushions.
  •  Physical Barriers: Physical barriers are contrived structures (peculiarly shaped, sized and formed) that exploit  conditions, properties of materials (strength, weight, bulk, ductility, etc.), and energy reactivity.
  •  Metaphysical Barriers: Metaphysical barriers are indicative and unreal, or Make-believe. A society by a tacit understanding accepts certain words, signs metaphors, and indications as allowable and non allowable actions (warnings, danger, caution, etc.). When such commonly acceptable norms are displayed, they function almost like a real barricade. Signs like Caution, Danger, ‘Do not trespass’, ‘keep off the grass’, etc. operate as barriers.
  • Indicative Barriers: Indicative barricades occur as signs, signals, symbols etc. Unreal barriers arise as a response to our accumulated experiences, in the form of taboos, beliefs, customs etc. Indicative  barriers are effective only for that class of beings, who not only know the meaning, but are willing to abide by it.


Make-believe barriers exploit the instinctive associations and conditioning of physiological and mental faculties. Man-made barrier systems are often unreal and metaphysical.

  •  Make-Believe Effects and Barriers: We are generally conditioned by predictable effects of the traditional or known materials. However, when we discover that any peculiar configuration or additional input creates an experience that is different from the one that is predictable, we get a tool for a make believe effect. Mirrors play a very important role in creation of duplicate spaces. Glasses  provide a transparent wall compared with a nominally solid opaque structure. Rooms other than square or rectangular shape provide an unusual experience. Echoes and reverberation of sound provide predictable space dimensions, but different perception gives unusual experience of the space. Lights and shadows mould the visible space. Ionized air endows a garden like freshness in an otherwise stifled space.
  • In real life we do use the stage like make-believe and indicative effects. We use these to create situations that are called ‘dramatic or melodramatic’.  Discotheques, Night Clubs, Amusement Parks, etc., are places where such make-believe effects are extensively exploited. Make-believe effects occur because we are conditioned by certain predictable responses of materials, texture, colour, illumination frequency and schedules of occurrence etc. When these predictable effects fail to arrive in the nominal context, or arrive in spite of a different situation a delusion occurs. Make-believe effects are almost magical or ethereal, and defy logic or reason.
  • Indian epic Maha Bharat mentions Lakshagriha, a palace where solid looking floors were water surfaces, and water surfaces were real floors. We perceive a dark space to be quiet and cold, but in a ‘maze’ of an amusement area, the reverse experience is provided. We usually perceive a load-bearing wall to be opaque, so a glass-wall seems different.


  •  Sensual Variations as Barriers: A non physical barrier could also occur through sensory variation. A subtle shift in texture, gradient, colour, illumination level, view,  temperature,  audio  perception changes the behaviour of the user and can become an effective barrier.
  • Visual Barriers: Visual barriers use colours in terms of their brightness and other optical qualities such as fluorescence, reflection and background-foreground contrasting. Visual barricades also include use of illumination or brightness, blinking (dynamic) lights, iridescence.
  • Barriers Consuming Energy: Barricades bar or control the exchange between its two faces. Barricades, themselves are variously affected by the exchange occurring through them. Some barricading systems use energy, to cause specific changes during the exchange process and also to revert to the nominal status. Barricading systems capable of using energy are machines, or a live beings, if additionally can reproduce or self sustain.
  • Protective Barriers: Protective barricades are designed to resist the most unfavourable combination of imposed loads (impact, wind, etc.). Such barricades allow planned deflection and distortion, with or without a collapse. A noncollapsible barrier is resilient enough to revert to the original position, whereas the collapsible barrier at a predetermined stage becomes ineffective. These conditions are included through a structural configuration, material technologies and through machine devices (operating on feed forward and feed back).

  • Soft Barriers: These recover after an impact, but do not bounce-back the striking object. Rubber flaps or plastic stripes on warehouses doors are flexible barriers.
  • Hard Barriers: These are used to divert (bounce back) the force of the impact. On express highways the shape and height of the railings and curbs are so designed that a vehicle on striking slides along it rather than thrown-back into the fast-moving traffic.
  • Transparent, Transluscent or Opaque Barriers: A glass barricade could be transparent for light but not for other objects. A large aperture grill could be ‘transparent' for light, air and view, ‘translucent' for an infant, pet etc., but ‘opaque' for a fat man. A vertical or horizontal Venetian blind could be ‘transparent'  or  ‘translucent' from a  particular  position and could  be ‘opaque' from another position. A smoke glass is ‘opaque' for view from outside but ‘transparent' for view from inside. Fast-moving air in an ‘air curtain system’ is a transparent barricade.
  • Notional Barriers: These are used for ceremonial purposes or as a representative form of a barrier . A wrought iron chain, a rope around a monument, podium, dais or rostrum, a red ribbons for inauguration, yellow tape of police investigation teams, are all notional barriers. Similarly signs and symbols (danger, do not enter, slow, stop) can also be used for barricading. If the users are knowledgeable, and are ready to accept a set social behavioural norm, than indicative (non physical) barriers are as effective as physical barriers. However, it should be possible for the user to recognize, feel and experience the presence of such barriers. Where such opportunities for recognition are not available, non physical barriers fail to be effective. Notional barriers are not recognised in a crowded area or in a chaotic situation. Similarly where barriers are required as protection against unknown elements, notional barriers are not effective.
  • Need for Barriers: Barriers are required at all places of hazards such as: construction sites (for the safety of workers, visitors, and trespassers), works in public areas (such as trenches, excavations), place near electrical equipments (with exposed parts that could be live, and installations with voltage of over 440 volts), any area where explosives are used or stored, to define the radius of any cranes or such equipments, etc. Barricades serve as warning (through visual and other sensorial recognition) and  also  as a  protective element.  Barricades also denote  territories, ownership and right of ways.


Persons with physical deficiencies require barriers for: extra support to the body, as a facility to ease the movement and as a guidance for the route. The  barricades however, must not create an exclusive route for the physically impaired. The barriers have distinguishing elements such as: shape, size (height, width), materials and their surfaces, nature of sensorial qualities available in the defined zones.

Barriers for visually impaired persons are required at two levels. The main barricade is like that required for a normal person. The barricade for the visually impaired persons should be continuous and have same texture, size, shape and feel throughout its spread. For the visually impaired person, a secondary set of barricade system is required at near the floor level to strike the walking stick. Even where, primary barricades are not ordinarily required due to the absence of a height-related hazard, a secondary barricade  (at floor  level) helps in directing a visually impaired person to a specific destination. Visually deficient persons require colour contrast from their background or neighbouring elements, Ramps or steps on passages must be indicated by colour,  illumination and textural difference. A colour blind person may not read a colour but recognises the later two elements.


The best and perhaps the most imaginative use of non physical or indicative barrier systems occurs in the performing arts. Here a performer wishing to express different experiences on a stage or arena has limited time, space and means. As a result the performance space or the stage is extended beyond its physical limits by exploiting both, the real barriers and indicative barriers. Since it is not possible to accommodate the entire set of physical barriers, only the acute or important sections are highlighted through frames, outlines, edges, cleavages, thresholds.

The sets, stage property, curtains, side wings, lighting, audio-video effects, etc. are used for creating a variety of spaces (‘here’ and ‘beyond’). A cleavage in side wings or a gap between two stage properties could signify a door, window, opening, corridor or a passage. The Stage thus becomes a place where a multiplicity of spaces ‘Here’ and a series of connected spaces supposed to exist ‘Beyond’ occur. Whatever is lacking in such definitions is further reinforced by the actors. The acting makes the audience feel as if the actor is actually dealing with or reacting to a real barrier. Mime acts are such explorations with unreal barriers.

Stage set barriers are experienced by the audience from a limited and fixed angle view. Sage Bharat Muni in his treatise on Natya Shastra (Canons on Dramatics) says actor turning back to the audience is out of the scene or dead. Even in Roman Amphi theatres the actors on the front section are active and by retreating to the backside become inactive. Stage barriers serve a very limited purpose effective for a short period, and last only for a scene, dialogue or the expression. However, real life barriers are rather permanent or at least are longer lasting, seen or experienced dynamically, that is from all sides.

Next artricle: Barricades in Buildings and Nature 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Buildings, like the proverbial cat, have nine lives. A building persists for a very long and indeterminable period. It remains relevant till the structure or part of it can provide shelter. And even after loss of its integrity as a shell for shelter, its parts and components are scavenged for reuse. A building is a precious asset, acquired at a great expense of resources and effort. No one wants it to go waste so it gets reborn and put to different use.

Life of a building is evaluated on basic two counts: Stability and Relevance.

Stability of a building is checked in terms the Physical condition, Structural integrity, and the stack-holders’ perceptions. The last factor is subjective, but it presents cumulative considerations of several participants. The Physical conditions are checked through the weathering processes of nature, and the user-related wear-tear. Structural integrity ensures its capacity to stand-up in equilibrium, by defying, overcoming or consistently being with the gravity, safety and security as a place of habitation.

Stack-holders’ perceptions:
Buildings are perceived to be stable when these are of balanced shapes (regular geometrical shapes), straight (upright and not inclined or crooked) form, broader at base, balanced composition (axially symmetrical), and of lower height. Similarly buildings made of materials that are opaque, high density, non deformable, stiff, good in compression, rough or robust finish, are considered longer lasting or reliable. Buildings composed of elements, fewer in numbers, larger in scale, and simpler in details also denote reliable performance.

Relevance is frequently associated with the Life of a building. A building may become irrelevant in a variety of context.

  •  A building may be considered to be irrelevant, when the purpose for which it was conceived is no longer valid.
  •   A building may become non-essential, when  other exotic or superior forms are available.
  •  A building may be considered to have ended, when its important constituents disintegrate or get separated.
  • A building may be judged redundant, when in spite of all remedial actions it cannot fulfill its functions.
  • A building becomes worthless, when due to decadence of some of the parts, it begins to affect our sensuality, pride, prestige, values, etc.
  • A building may turn embarrassing, in the context of its varied surroundings and environment.
  • A building may be rejected, when the surroundings do not support its existence or use.
  • A building may be abandoned, when resources for a fresh (and necessarily superior) form are available. 
  • A building is declared defective if it cannot stay in equilibrium or in a state that is right for a normal human occupation.
  • A building may become ineffective if it cannot accommodate technologically superior service systems, parts or components.


It is perceived differently by different stack-holders.

 ●    A casual observer perceives ‘monumental buildings’ to be of time tested or mature technology and durable, whereas, fragile buildings (though stable and functionally adequate) are of a newer or untested technology and so temporary.

●    A User perceives permanence in terms of buildings’ capacity to accommodate the changes effortlessly through the passage of time.

●    A Designer distinguishes a new building for a specific set of functions only. Architects very rarely design buildings for reuse or adoptive functions.

●    A Builder recognizes the building for its stability or equilibrium. In this drive the builder unless restrained by the economics will overdo the job by making the building extra strong (safe). In rural areas where the user is the designer and the builder, permanence resides in the personal ability to maintain and upgrade the building. For such self-builders structure is permanent so long it can be reconditioned from personal or local resources. In nomadic or intensively migrant societies, the dwellings are light and transportable, yet the selection of form and the materials, reflect their quest for permanence.


The process of change is both, in the building itself and the contextual setting within which it must exist. The changes in the building shell are real happening in time, though usually ignored. The change in its contextual setting is often subjective perception, and so seems to be unreal. The changes in the building or its surroundings are not noticed because these occur in small measures and spread over a very long period.

●    Natural changes occur in buildings irrespective of the intensity of use. Such changes occur in buildings that are over-used, mis-used, under-used or not at all-used. Though, some conditions like over-usage may hasten the pace of  change. Natural changes cannot be terminated, but perhaps can be slowed or restricted spatially.

●    Man-made changes mainly relate to the nature of use. Over-usage reflects the intensity of use, which must be provisioned for in the system. Mis-usage results due to the abuse of the building system. It relates to the social set-up within which the building exists, functional inadequacies and ambiguities about the form. Under-usage and non-use of a building are circumstantial factors, and in that sense the changes may be more for natural reasons then man-made causes. Man-made changes are involuntary as well as malicious.


A building exists and flourishes in the circumstantial surroundings and with environmental factors. These bear upon the building. A building exists in the social, political and an economics profile of the locality. The environmental factors are absolute and are fairly consistent, but at micro level these effects are conditioned by the happenings in the immediate vicinity. A building has a relevance for its form, functionality and technological grade.

Contextual setting of a building is considered mainly in terms of its Location and Age, and both change concurrently. A good building is integral to its Space and Time. Changes in the contextual settings affect some buildings more,  if these are: Intensely located that is subsisting on the site related advantages, Highly stylized, Acutely dependent on the technology, and Endowed with high degree of functionality.

# Location is the external realm of the building. It has two facets: the distance or the extent and the stack holders of the building. A building serves certain terrain or physical distance. When these get enlarged due to efficient transport services the usage is increased, but conversely barriers like railway tracks, canals, closure of roads,  or loss of visual identity affects the raison d'être (reason for existence) of the building. Stack holders become insincere for maintenance when the location begins to deteriorate due to economic, social or political problems, and affects the pride or faith in the building.

Life of buildings is governed by its surroundings. Environmental pollution over a location strains the parts and components, hastening their failure. Old buildings in good localities are more likely to be well looked after than in deteriorating locations.

# Age dilutes the connections a building has with the site and the circumstances. A building on ageing becomes irrelevant for the original functions and current day technologies. However, it can still continue to survive, if its structure is safe and habitation worthy.


A building, if it has a form of architectural styling then it is continued as a relic. When it has commemorative connections, in appreciation of its past, the building becomes a monument. Buildings that need to be remembered are restored  or preserved to retain their form, but often in complete absence of the original setting. A building that has substantially lost the form and has indistinct circumstantial connections can be enacted through re-imaging of its setting, like through Sound & light (son et Lumière) shows on historical sites.

Buildings are continued by Restorative as well as Enabling interventions. Repairs and maintenance schedules can restore parts, components and systems, provided the design is ‘open-ended’. However, holistic creations or ‘close-ended’ entities deteriorate completely without any scope for corrective measures. Enabling interventions add local capacities, or mediate by adjusting the existing capacities. Changes in the surroundings force functional changes in the building, however, whether one makes the changes to be with surroundings or resists, both ways the building gets altered.

Buildings persist, primarily by changing the functions they serve, secondly by redefining the form, and in rare cases, if possible, by altering the surroundings. Many corrective actions are necessary to use the building for a different purpose. Redefining the form of a building is even more difficult as it expected to satisfy simultaneously the functional needs and the value system in the society. In the first instance if the owner finds the corrective actions uneconomic, would rather opt for a new entity. In the later case, the changes in the form may make the society apathetic to the building’s revised ‘look’. The preservation of surroundings of  buildings requires social, political and financial involvement, beyond the reach of an owner or user. A building, if is a public utility, serves social functions, or is society’s pride and prestige, its surroundings will be maintained or even resurrected.

Young buildings seem invincible. Original intentions are still valid and surroundings relevant, and so no change of the function or form is required. Enabling interventions such as maintenance helps a building continue with a predictable and consistent pace. Such restorative efforts sustain the form and nurture the functions. New buildings have overcapacity risk margins. The parts and components are able to share the additional loads or risks posed by neighbouring constituents. So in early stages of buildings’ life no major replacements are required. New buildings do not need immediate changes unless the programme for it has been faulty, or it coincides with major changes in the  political, social or economics fields. Changes in the early phase can be easily made, because original designer and design documents are available. At this point the building is structurally fit for habitation.

All changes, whether these are improvisations, preventive corrections, sufficiency provisions, or re-surrectional actions, may be ‘minor, imperceptible, innocent, non-invasive or just touching’. Such small changes however, gradually add up to completely reformat the original form. These reformations are in addition to the parallel altering process of nature.

Buildings with associated values are carefully changed to maintain the form, and the functions. Such building seems to last forever, except when referenced against past records or memories. Though planned corrective measures or the inevitable (natural) changes may sum up into ‘non-recoverable’ damaging consequences.


FIRST Stage  occurs immediately on occupation. Buildings where the functions have not been adequately defined, or get substantially compromised during the post planning phase, turn into an irrelevant entity. The greatest threat occurs from fast changing surroundings and external circumstances like the ingress of new technologies.

SECOND Stage  occurs when safety and security are under threat due to natural disasters or design inadequacies. Some major programme to replace parts, components and systems can still save the building.

THIRD Stage  arrives much later in life of the building. At these stage the original sponsors or owners are no longer the stack holders. New masters possibly have negligible no emotional attachment. The building has lost its functional and location related relevance, forcing a financial viability assessment. The form has been substantially altered and no restoration efforts can reestablish anything even to the original.
FOURTH Stage  sets in when many of the systems that support the environment for human occupation become dysfunctional. The building may nevertheless survive and be used for non habitation purposes like storage.

TERMINAL Stage  is, when the shell deteriorates and collapses. Building remains an  operational entity so long as the bare minimum space defining or enclosing entity, remains sound. In well integrated buildings the process of deterioration cannot be noticed in isolation. Here the shell and other subsystems are not separable, and so the collapse is unpredictable and sudden.  However, in assembled buildings the frame and in-fill elements have distinctly defined roles of structural or non-structural elements. Here the deterioration is visible, slow to occur and often predictable.

It is very difficult to define the demise of a building. A building dies many deaths usually very slowly but occasionally suddenly. Parts and components decay at different and an unknown rate. With age the capacity to accommodate the changes becomes smaller and uneconomic. Users and occupants of the buildings are continuously involved very closely, and do not realise the changes setting in. The accumulated changes are more apparent to others, which reduces a building’s social prestige and also affects the locality’s standing.


A building represents a designer’s professionalism, an owner’s dreams, a builder’s craftsmanship, and society’s values, traditions, beliefs, heritage, politics, laws, environment, etc. Buildings result from immense amounts of resources and effort, so there is natural resistance to demolition or disintegration of existing buildings. When a building disintegrates, many of the accomplishments are irretrievably lost. Though public preference fluctuates from age to age, between creation of new buildings and preservation of existing buildings.

Professionals like architects, interior designers, builders, have a natural interest in the life span of buildings. A building signifies effort (intellectual for conception), manpower (for execution), energy inputs, resources and plant-equipment’s utilization. It also represents fees and service costs, monetary investments and above all consummation of a non recoverable entity -time.

  • In any urban setting the question of Age of Building is very important. Today, 70% of the city’s apartment buildings (Toronto, Canada) are more than 40 years old, and substantial number of them (60%) are located in the core area.
  • Of all the buildings, available for human use to day in urban areas, substantial number of them are more than 25 years old. In other words, these buildings were commissioned by a generation of people, that are not alive to day, or have retired from active life. More than ½ of the urban population spend their entire life, in buildings ‘that were not conceived and built by or for them, but adopted for or by them’. This proportion is likely to increase as time passes for two major reasons:
           1   Buildings are being built with better technologies and last longer.
           2   People migrate more frequently and have little time to construct a new building.

Buildings are intentionally designed to outlive the planned functions. However, unwittingly buildings are over-designed. There are several sub-levels where ‘factors of safety’ are individually applied. These individual factors add up to substantial ‘margin of safety’. Wherever the components are well integrated, such duplication of safety factors is avoided. During later day repairs, replacement and maintenance schedules the original cohesive working is disturbed. The interactive sharing of loads and risks become scarce, and components begin to decay at different and often unpredictable rates.

In certain emergencies, it is not possible, to either plan or build new buildings, and as a result one must locate and adapt readily available forms. Nevertheless, an assured life span of the building is always the major factor for selection in such exigencies.

Life of Buildings -A chapter from series Alterations and Renovations

Thursday, October 3, 2013


emerge as the most widely acceptable strategy, set through specifications. Standards are conceived to generate a controlled response. Standards relate to specifications for making, maintaining, using and disposing objects, and mechanics of creation, handling, operations and management. Standards as the most widely acceptable strategy, could emerge from empathy or as a strategic understanding between two or more persons. Standards' formation is a raison d’etre for (reason for being) member of clan or society. Governments gain political power and patronage by administering standards. Regional blocks and International communities achieve efficiency by preventing conflict and duplication of effort through standards. Standards, very effectively and economically raise the levels of quality, safety, reliability, efficiency and commutability.


Standards are expected to achieve predictable results, by voluntary concurrence, obligation, or through enforcement. Standards are very powerful means to cause a change or even maintain status-quo. The nature of Application of Standards takes many different forms with varying levels of credibility. Acceptance of standards if voluntary ensues a social respect or some form of elite status. The enforcement also may occur with social boycott, penalty or punishment.

    ▪ Compulsory and Legal:             Such as laws, rules

    ▪ Obligatory and Quasi Legal:     Such as directives, policies

    ▪ Obnoxious or Evil:                   Such as decrees, mandates

    ▪ Necessities:                              Such as compulsions, obligations

    ▪ Traditional and Esteemed:        Such as customs, traditions, taboos

    ▪ Provisions:                               Such as, recommendations


Standards emerge at many different levels. At basic level these are very widely acceptable strategies. But at higher level, a person, an organization or a government department must strive for greater universal participation. Such an active role in the society occurs as a quest for quality for all aspects of being. The quest for quality is reflected through: desire to excel, readiness for improvisation, steadfastness to good practices, transparency in dealings,  persistence for consistency, wider application.

  • Personal standards: Standards at a very primary level are compiled by a Person, as a 'collection of bests', 'most favoured or representative items' or 'my suggestion'. Since these are carefully picked out items, represent a Quality Conscience of the Author, and so are personal standards. Personal Standards are valued for the author's mastery over the subject, rather, then the absolute quality of the included material. Personal standards combined with personal norms for enforcement are often tyrannical. Specifications that establish personal standards describe entities' physical characteristics, but rarely provide the ways and means (processes) of achieving or even testing it. Typical examples of personal standards are: Time saver standards for architecture and interior design, Furniture or item catalogues, Special issues of periodicals, etc. 
  •  Standards as a strategic understanding: Standards can be a strategic understanding, among the competitors or between the associates to manage a situation such as: reduce the rivalry, rationalise the methods of production, reduce the costs, enhance the image of the product, form a cartel to ward off the non-members etc. Such standards also emerge without any distinct effort, as 'followers of the same path', empathetically  sustain similar actions. A work-culture or faith comradery develops among the practitioners.
  • Standards of clan or cast: Members of clan or cast can have a tacit or formal understanding for acting in unison. Such understandings are of usually negative dictates and are very restrictive. These understandings or standards sustain the livelihood by protecting the exclusive or patent knowhow, and by regulating the competition among the members. The standards are more of the norms for behavioural and less of technological specifications. Clans and casts flourish by acting in consonance with the Rulers or Government. Which, inturn enhances their governance by politically acknowledging such practices. Over a period of time the divergent policies and directives of the clans get rationalised as the Code of Conduct. Such Codes relate to personal behaviour, formation and conduct of commercial activities, use of resources including the environment, safety measures, risks management, manufacturing, handling and disposing of the materials, and trade practices relating to weights, measures, economic transactions, employment, etc.
  • Virtual standards: Some major Consumers, Government departments like defence, because of vast scales of their operations, are prolific creators of specifications, and their needs become virtual standards. These agencies can afford to operate testing facilities for the purchases, and have enough supervision expertise for rationalizing the work procedures.
  • In India, Railways and Public works departments are some of the agencies that dominate the realm of commercial activities. Whatever is consumed by them become the commercially the most viable item. In USA the Government (mainly in defence establishments) allows specifications to be only performance oriented. These are Standards by Preference and Prevalence and are, a commercial reality.
  • National standards: Specifications have strong indigenous origin, because materials and human skills, both have strong local character and advantage. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) in India, and National Standards agencies in many countries of the world, operate as a Standards Formulating, Licensing, and Enforcing-agency. Whereas some governments like USA, act only as a Facilitating agency, encouraging the trade organizations and technical associations to take the lead in not only developing standards, but for their enforcement.

  • Governments during the later part of 20th century found it easier to frame laws that are parallel to standards. In many small countries, standards for only very urgent and acute requirements are prepared, as integral part of the legislation. ‘Formulation of Standards' and Legislation is considered to be the same.
  • International standards: National standards are very indigenous, designed to serve the national interests. The national protectionist interests are served by restrictive or negative specifications. National standards cover only the exigent needs of the nation, so do not serve the interests of regional economic activities. When materials and human resources are transected across nations, a need for a wider application of specifications makes Nations come together to create a Charter of Regional or International Conduct. A world level Organization was needed to coordinate the standards’ activities of many Nations and Commercial Organizations. International Standards Organization (ISO -1947), International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC -1906) in 1906 and the International Federation of the National Standardizing Associations (ISA -1926-1942), are some such International agencies.
  • International Standards have no Legislative Support or Enforcement backing of a Government. International Standards work on Voluntary Corroboration. Such standards flourish on the realization that greater advantages are earned by following it, rather then not being part of it. Success of International Standards depends on the Rational Confirmation and Wider Acceptance.

  • Standards -from series Interior Design Practice and Office Management - II


  Post 171 -by Gautam Shah .  SUNDAY Feature on ART of Architecture John Terrick Williams (1860-1936) was a British painter, who was a me...