Home Institution

University of San Francisco

Publication Date

Spring 2013

Program Name

India: Sustainable Development and Social Change


The region of Sikkim is located on the Aplide-Himalayan global seismic belt, a seismically vulnerable area of the world. The 2011 M6.9 earthquake caused a severe disruption in the functions of both rural and urban Sikkim. In areas populated by humans, most of the visible damage and harm done in an earthquake is due to poorly designed and constructed buildings and infrastructure rather than the earthquake itself. The focus of this paper lies in study of the relationship between the predominant building types of rural vs. urban Sikkim. Ikra is a low cost vernacular building type found in Sikkim’s rural village setting. Reinforced Concrete (RCC) is the bulk of the built environment in Sikkim’s high density urban setting. Both types of construction result in structurally reliable buildings when subjected to the lateral forces of an earthquake. However faulty practice and implementation can lend a different result. In the 2011 earthquake, Ikra constructed buildings suffered little damage immediately responsible to the earthquake. In contrast, many of the RCC buildings in the affected areas suffered from the strong lateral forces, resulting in harsh diagonal cracks and on occasion complete structural failure and collapse.

Because of Ikra’s resilience in seismic conditions this paper will explore the ways it is still utilized in the village context. It will delve into the material shift from vernacular building technologies, specifically Ikra, to the use of RCC. And it will begin to explore the future possibilities of utilizing both local and urban knowledge in the design and construction of buildings. The goal is to hatch out a relationship that will serve to combine low-cost, local sustainable building technologies with efficient strong modern technologies and design theory. The different housing typologies of Sikkim and the dynamic which has dictated a change in building trends, has been investigated through direct observation and via interviews/ interactions with both rural and urban inhabitants. In particular, the Ikra building technology has been explored via the direct observation of rural village Lingee Payong’s built environment, through participatory observation on construction sites, and through interviews and observations of local builders and building inhabitants. The process culminated in participatory design sessions with the local community of Payong to design a house for the government program, Reconstruction of Earthquake Damaged Rural Houses (REDRH) that is reflective of the people, the culture, and the lifestyles of the community of Payong.


Community-Based Research | Infrastructure | Tectonics and Structure


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