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Meghalaya’s Living Root Bridges: A Global Lesson in Sustainable Architecture

In the United States, the approach to land use planning is problematic because of the over-exploitation of natural resources. Typical building projects involve clearing the land of natural growth in order to build structures that meet the needs of commercial or private landowners. By contrast, the people of Meghalaya in Northeast India cultivate and work with indigenous raw materials. The objective of my research is to determine what can be learned from these sustainable land use planning practices. My project examines land use planning that incorporates employing F. elastica which is indigenous to what is considered the wettest region in the world. These structures are known as Living Root Bridges which allow the natives of Meghalaya to traverse the harsh landscape prone to flooding during the monsoon season. I conducted a comprehensive review of the available literature including scientific reports, news articles, video presentations, radio features, and census data. Research into the Khasi methods of using F. elastica to connect terrain during monsoon season can help inform ways to address the implications of climate change on architecture and design. Typical building materials such as concrete, stone and asphalt add to the production of heat in cities augmenting the use of air conditioning and electricity, whereas plants are cooling agents that also absorb carbon dioxide and provide oxygen to the atmosphere. The innovative use of indigenous materials by the Khasi people can serve to inspire land use and urban design in the U.S. and around the world as we strive to create structures that will address and mitigate the challenges climate change causes for future generations.

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