Civil Engineer Maneuvers to Link Science with Cultural Heritage

To restore the glory of any architecture of magnificence, it is vital to know the materials and technology that was once used to build it. Professor Thirumallini Selvaraj (47) a civil engineer and teacher at the Vellore Institute of Technology endeavours to meaningfully engage in the civic projects.

Working as a consultant helping restore the heritage sites and buildings which include the likes of Charminar, Padmanabhapuram Palace, and the Vadakkunnathan Temple, her penchant for the diverse craft reflected in the facades makes her use the science and technology to employ sustainable ways to restore an architectural marvel.

Architects in the past put to use the materials like Stone or lime mortar, granite and plant extracts including jaggery and kadukkai which could be sourced easily or were locally available. But as there is a very lack of information about the technique the restoration  projects demand scientific research.

Holding a BE degree in Civil Engineering and has done her PhD in Heritage Lime Mortar Characterization and Simulation, she has been trying to fill in the gap of knowledge with regard to the techniques and science behind the sustainability of this old architecture. According to her, “India is one of the few places in the world that has used plant extracts in the construction of these structures, based on regional availability.”

As structures in India are diverse, the collaboration with people working in the parts of Europe, peculiarly in Italy and France can be useful in employing specific methodologies and procedures with respect to Indian structures. Other countries are far ahead in terms of scientific restoration because they have extensive facilities at their disposal. She has worked with the University of Pisa and the National Research Council (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche) in Italy, which has a separate body of research on heritage. She has also worked with Newcastle University in the UK.

It’s actually the need of the hour for future generations to know the methods deployed to construct civilisations, and how sustainable these have been. Unless architects are able to engage the heritage with economy, the discipline will be peripheral to society.

Cover image by The Better India

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