Repairs versus Reconstruction

01 Nov 2021

Building value must be an aspect at the prime location in our minds while taking any long-term decision in any and every project, emphasises CHETAN RAIKAR.

Any structure is constructed mostly out of natural resources. Cement is made from limestone, steel is made from iron ore, and  so on. There are hardly any materials of construction that are purely inorganic in nature.

We have two distinct types of structures available for use currently – the heritage structures, and the more recent ones constructed in steel and concrete. Most consultants prefer to reconstruct the older structures than to repair them. This is probably due to the following reasons: 1) The improved land use (to utilise the FSI ) and the commercial benefits derived out of the same. 2) Technical inability of the consultant to do value analysis of repairs versus reconstruction. 3) Present day needs of the user and society.

The impact

Some of the heritage structures are saved due to the statute, fortunately.
 Any reconstruction project has environmental impacts and permanent detrimental effects such as: 1) Creation of huge quantity of debris disposed as landfill in most cases. 2) Use of natural resources in construction of the new structure and the carbon footprint of the same. 3) Consumption of energy in demolition and reconstruction that substantially higher compared to repairs. 4) Nuisance and disturbance to the neighbourhood and infrastructure in densely populated areas.

Factors like environmental impact of the action, social impact and other aspects must be considered before taking a final decision of demolishing a structure.

A global view for value

Heritage structures last for centuries since they have a huge quantum of strength reserve. The materials used in constructing them, such as stone, timber, lime, etc, are more durable compared to the newer-age construction materials. The techniques of construction used in heritage structures are more towards making low-stress structures and having a higher factor of safety and strength reserve in the structures, when compared to the techniques used nowadays. This is primarily the reason these structures last for centuries, with much less maintenance demands. This is one more reason why a decision of demolishing a heritage structure should not be taken, easily.

Value engineering, as applied on structures is a major need of the society, the Mother Earth, and hence the animal kingdom, which includes human race. Demolition for the sake of commercial gains should be a big ‘NO’! Since the commercial gains are only for a handful of people whereas it is a permanent loss to the society and people at large.

Building value should always, hence, be weighed much above the direct tangible benefits to some and more global view must be taken by the authorities.

I strongly recommend considering the following before deciding about repairs versus reconstruction: 1) Is the decision being taken for commercial gains of few? 2) Is Mother Nature being damaged permanently in the process? 3) How is the debris going to recycled (and not dumped at a landfill)? 4) Is there a gain or loss in the energy consumption of the universe?

 The commissioner of Mumbai recently made a statement that more than half the city of Mumbai would be under 1 m of water in the next couple of decades or so. This is an alarming statement from a responsible bureaucrat. This issue ust be taken seriously. We, the construction industry, must reverse the damage that we cause to Mother Nature and “building value” must be an aspect at the prime location in our minds while taking any long-term decision in any and every project.

About the author: 
Chetan Raikar, Chairman and Managing Director, Structwel Designers and Consultants, is a professional structural engineer with a true passion in conservation of heritage structures. He has achieved great heights of success by crediting some of the notable heritage conservation projects to his stride; making him one of the renowned conservationists in the country today.

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