Dome an alien element for M’laya, a symbol of power: Architects’ forum

SHILLONG, May 24: The collapse of the central dome of the under-construction Assembly building at Mawdiangdiang has stirred up a hornet’s nest.
Senior architect and president of Meghalaya Architect’s Forum, Aiban Mawkhroh spoke of the dome as an alien concept for a society that believes in the traditional values of egalitarianism – a state where even the chieftain (Syiem) is just the first among equals and not a king as had been construed by the British.
Referring to PWD (Buildings) Executive Engineer Ransom Sutnga’s claims before the media that the debris would be removed in two weeks, Mawkhroh said, “The debris is concrete evidence for the third party professional institution which will come to conduct an independent inquiry. It is like examining the scene of a crime. Did the dome fall vertically or sideways? These are important clues and the scene should be sealed off and not contaminated. The National Institute of Technology (NIT) Shillong has a laboratory to check the quality of the cement and other materials used so the inspection should be quick and conclusive and not allowed to drag,” Mawkhroh said.
Pointing to three important factors that could have led to the ruined dome, Mawkhroh said it could be that the architects (Design Associates INC) that designed the whole structure brought in an alien element and with inadequate understanding of the lay of the land. The second fault could be that of the contractor who did not follow detailed specifications and thirdly the fault could lie with the supervising engineer who compromised on the quality of work.
Mawkhroh further stated that the dome is a redefined symbol of democracy which reeks of British imperialism. “Domes symbolise power since they rise above all other parts of the building to look down on the citizens. They are meant to convey a sense of people looking up at the legislators with awe,” he said.
All India Trinamool Congress state president and former chairman of Meghalaya Government Construction Corporation (MGCC), Charles Pyngrope while commenting on the fallen dome says, “For a dome weighing 70 tonnes the supporting structures should be such that they are strong enough to carry that weight. The cube test strength should be checked every 7, 14, 21 days and the report given by the supervising engineer. Those reports need to be checked. The sand-cement ratio should be regularly tested. Looking at the manner in which the walls have also come apart it appears that the strength of the building itself is suspect.”
To a question on why an outside firm was chosen for the project and whether the MGCC is not capable of executing the Assembly building project, Pyngrope said, “The MGCC executed the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) project and it is as good as any project of an outside firm if not better. I am constructing a hospital and the structural engineer who comes from Guwahati is strictly monitoring the project to test its strength. In the case of the Assembly project there was either no supervision or that aspect was compromised.”
Meanwhile The Shillong Times also spoke to JN Khataniar, Structural Engineer with 45 years of experience, on the untimely demise of the dome. Khataniar is Senior Consultant Engineer Srishtie Guwahati since 1997 and Senior Technical Advisor of Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA).
He says, “A dome is a curved arch type structure which never breaks, as there is no chance of it sagging due to its own shape and weight. But a Dome weighing 70 MT is a huge self-weight and seems like an abnormal plan and design. Today we have modern technology and engineering techniques like light gauge steel frame structure (LGSFS), pre- engineered steel building frame structure etc., widely used for their good structural behaviour, ease and speed of construction and also because they can endure earthquakes etc.”
Khataniar said the failure of the dome may be due to the uneven foundation settlement due to poor soil properties and inadequate depth of foundation which is not properly designed. There could have been faults in soil investigation report or it could be the under-sized or under-reinforced RCC columns and beams supporting the dome structure at sufficient height.
He however stated that since the vetting was done by the country’s premier technical institute, IIT Roorkee, the possibilities of the above happening is remote.
According to Khataniar, other reasons for the dome’s collapse could be due to the geo-technical investigation report prepared and submitted for structural analysis not being up to the mark technically on the basis of which structure is being designed by structural engineers. The planning and designing should have been such that the load of the building is distributed perfectly to the ground level to ensure the building can sustain the dead load, live loads and sudden unpredictable earthquake loads.
Khataniar also pointed to the quality of materials used particularly the grade of concrete and strength of steel as specified on which structural design and analysis was carried out and the actual quality of materials used at site during execution. These two items in RCC building structures along with sand and coarse aggregate play an important role in ensuring a healthy structure.
He said the proper testing of quality of materials used at site is an essential aspect for any type of construction projects and finally the workmanship. Even if all the factors are taken care of but the workmanship is poor and attention is not paid to this crucial issue a structure cannot be certified healthy, he pointed out.
“As per my preliminary observations the main reasons for the collapse of the important and prestigious dome structure is due to human negligence or errors. For proper scientific observations, site inspection and on the spot study is integral,” Khataniar added.

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