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The mechanics of historic (South Indian) temple architecture: Pillars

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Besides fulfilling the spiritual/religious needs of devotees are historic South Indian temples only sculptural marvels? What else can they teach us? In this post I limit the discussion to pillars and address other elements in subsequent posts. The question of what a temple structure can teach us became relevant after a visit to one of the many large temple complexes in Tamil Nadu. The temple's carved pillars are justly famous, which however led to a problematic outcome-the pillars were seen as free-standing sculptures with no other purpose than ornamentation, completely sidelining their essential functional role.

At a pragmatic level from a conservation standpoint I found this problematic as the probably historic stone floor and any (un-carved) available portion of the pillar and beam arrangement, including the capitals, had been drilled into, in order to insert electrical wiring, conduits, tube-lights, switchboards, meter boards, and floodlights to highlight the 'glorious ca…

Understanding the science of historic buildings

What is a historic building?

Historic buildings are structures built years ago, ranging from few decades to many hundred years. They are typically constructed using naturally occurring or locally made rather than large-scale manufactured materials. Therefore they behave differently (for instance how they bear their own weight and that of the building's users: read our blog on this) compared to contemporary buildings which are built using industrial grade materials like steel, cement, and concrete. 

In the short term using modern materials on a historic building may not seem problematic but over time their usage would substantially reduce the lifespan of a historic building. This is because the composition and properties of both are completely different.

For example, historic buildings would have walls of stone, brick, or even mud and not concrete or breeze blocks. They would have lime as both mortar (material binding wall components) and plaster (finishing material for walls) instea…