The Living Root Bridge Project

$1,873 of $7,500 goal

Raised by 35 people in 18 months
Patrick A Rogers  NEWARK, DE
Howdy folks. My name is Patrick Rogers, and my GoFundme campaign is called the Living Root Bridge Project

What if I were to tell you that the world’s most unusual variety of functional architecture was mostly unknown and under threat; that large numbers of an incredible and utterly unique class of man-made structure, some of them over five hundred years old, some of them over a hundred and fifty feet long, may soon be a thing largely of the past; that the world's greatest feats of sustainable botanical architecture, which could serve as an inspiration for environmentally friendly constructions the world over, could largely disappear within a few years’ time.  And what if I were to tell you that, for the people who made these incredible structures, many of their monumental cultural achievements could be eradicated long before they had any chance to take credit for, or benefit from the world’s interest, in them. Finally, what if I were to tell you that there is a kind of architecture which is alive.

                                                  

What I’m talking about are the living root bridges, and other living root structures, of Northeast India. These astonishing bridges, ladders, and observation platforms are unlike any other form of functional architecture for the simple reason that instead of being built, they are grown. The War Khasi and War Jaintia peoples of the state of Meghalaya (and also the Konyak Nagas of the Indo-Myanmar border) have developed an ingenious method of using the roots of a variety of Indian fig tree to form living, yet usable, botanical structures.

But while a very few of these living root constructions have become well known, surprisingly little is understood about the practice of creating botanical architecture as a whole. It is unknown how many living root structures there are, what their geographic range is, how long they have been made, where they originated, where they are most densely concentrated, how many different techniques go into their construction, or how many different purposes they can serve. In short, we know almost nothing about them. If the practice is never properly studied, and is allowed to mostly fade away, it would be a huge loss. An entire chapter in the history of human architecture would never be written, while the inspiration these beautiful, living, growing, sustainable, self-strengthening constructions could provide to the rest of the world would gone forever.

The aim of my project is therefore to collect as much information on as many of these structures as I can. I’ll use this to create a website, using wordpress or a similar platform, on which I will, to the best of my abilities, present as much data as I can on the subject of botanical architecture. My hope is that this will help to facilitate later, and more substantive, research on a subject which has sofar barely been studied. 

In the long run, I feel that increased academic interest in living root architecture will spread awareness of the phenomenon so that the people of the region may both further benefit from it, and also accurately receive credit for it.  On top of this, my hope is that gathering a substantial body of knowledge about living architecture will contribute to its preservation for future generations, . 



Sadly, many living root bridges are under threat of being destroyed by a number of factors, including fires, floods, road construction, negligence, and local villages having  to remove them and replace them with less exceptional steel bridges due to safety hazards. While the few living root bridges that have become famous will almost certainly survive, these are only a shockingly tiny portion of the phenomenon as a whole. Most of the living root bridges have already been destroyed, and many of the rest may be soon to follow, while the practice itself, which is more important than any single bridge, is well on its way to fading out. My hope therefore is that creating a database of living root structures may lead to the preservation of at least a few of these structures, while also providing historical documentation for those places where living root bridges once were, but have now disappeared.



Right now, you might be saying to yourself:"That all sounds great, but how can this person possibly hope to succeed? Documenting obscure living root bridges in a super remote part of India sounds really really tough." Well, it will be, though I now have two years worth of experience. In February of 2015, I took a one month hike through the region, and came across in the vicinity of 50 living root structures, a large proportion of which had never been previously documented. Over the course of my long walk, I developed the physical, mental, linguistic, and diplomatic skills necessary to cross huge distances of Meghalaya hill country and track down obscure living root structures.

In 2016 I officially began this project, and over a three month time frame traveled around Meghalaya, documenting and digging up as much information as I could about living root bridges. In the process, I collected data on about 88 living root structures (some still standing, some destroyed), which I'll use to create the beginnings of a picture of the phenomenon as a whole. Among other things, I looked very deeply into why only a few living root bridges remain standing and undamaged, while most have either disappeared or are on their way to disappearing. 



However, there's still a gigantic amount of work to be done, and one thing I never have enough of is time. That's where your donations can make a huge difference. Locating and mapping so many examples of living root architecture means hiking for months, launching several expeditions to different parts of Northeast India, and covering vast amounts of ground. Therefore, in order to make this thing work I need to be able to take multiple trips to the region over the course of the next few years, which is an expensive prospect!

Your donations will also help massively with "on the ground" expenses, such as hiring local guides, hotel and homestay fees, local transportation costs, and  donations to local organizations which are geared towards promoting living root architecture or rural tourism. This way, a sizable chunk of the money that you donate to the Living Root Project will go directly to communities in the region.

                                      

Living Root Bridges are some of the most beautiful and unusual man-made structures on the face of the earth, but they are rapidly disappearing. It is my view that these monuments to human ingenuity are genuinely important. They are a part of the heritage not just of India, but of humanity as a whole. They should not be allowed to be reduced to just a few random survivors.

With your help, I hope to take one small but vital step towards the preservation of this astonishing phenomenon.

Thank you very much

Patrick Rogers

P.S.: All photos are by me, and were taken during my long hike in Feb 2015

For more information on obscure living root bridges, visit my blog at:   http://evenfewergoats.blogspot.com/


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Update 28
Posted by Patrick Rogers
4 months ago
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Hey folks, I just wanted to (finally!) get an update out to you. Yes....things are taking rather longer than I had predicted, but now I at least have something concrete to send you.

Here's a link for the write up I've done on my interpretation of the data I've collected thusfar:

http://evenfewergoats.blogspot.com/2016/12/lr-project-data-interpretation-rough.html

This is still a rough draft, it doesn't yet have pictures to make it pretty...I'm going to put this on an entirely separate website.

Now, two things:

First: I'm going to follow this up with a listing of each structure...a few things will make more sense once that's available. I was originally going to release all of this information together, but the document turned out around 90 pages long.

Second: One thing that I'll need to mention in the second draft is the fact that, without knowing how many LR bridges there are in Meghalaya, it's impossible to know what percentage of the total this survey represents....more work needs to be done.
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Update 27
Posted by Patrick Rogers
6 months ago
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Hey folks

So, the status of things is this: I'm in the middle of putting together my report on what I've done so far, but it's going to take a little longer to get the whole thing in a presentable form. This is in part simply because there's a ton of information that I collected, which not only needs to be presented but also interpreted.

That being said, what I will have done soon (aiming for next week), is the core section of the report, which will be the part listing the measurements/data/ notes I collected over the course of the project in 2016.

After I get that part done, I'll make it available, and then will complete the rest of the report in stages over the coming weeks.

Busy times

In other news: A living root bridge makes a breif cameo in the movie "The Huntsman: Winter's War." It only seemed a matter of time before one showed up as a fantasy concept...

Anyway, more updates soon

Patrick

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Update 26
Posted by Patrick Rogers
7 months ago
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Hi folks!

I realized it's been quite a while since I've sent in an update, so I just wanted to touch base.

There's no huge news. I'm still working on a report where I'm going to consolidate all my findings from this year and 2015. The deadline I've given myself is Oct 20th, so if your interested in that I'll make it available here.

On top of that, I'm getting a small book published (in e-book form), by Westland ltd. about travelling in Southern Meghalaya. While the book isn't strictly about LR architecture, it will go into detail about what needed to be done to reach all of these places, and many of the people I met along the way. But the book should provide another means with which to get the word out.

On top of that, I'm trying to find various ways to raise funds for next year's missions. I need to return yet again to the Khasi hills region, but also I need to go to Nagaland, where my friend Guy Shachar has revealed that there are several LR bridges. Here's a short video Guy made about LR bridges. He's a trained architect, so he has some insight into the engineering principals at work: http://guyshachar.com/en/2016/living-root-bridges-structures-north-east-india/

Alright, more news in a bit

Patrick

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Update 25
Posted by Patrick Rogers
10 months ago
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Hi folks. It's been a while, so this is going to be a pretty lengthy update on where things stand.

So, I'm now safe and sound back in the U.S. At this point, what I need to focus on is organizing, presenting, and, frankly, simply making sense of, the huge mass of information I've dug up on living root architecture over the past five months...no small task...

So, now for some numbers so that you know I wasn't just goofing off in the jungle:

Total entrees made: 88
Total standing living root bridge surveyed: 53
Total destroyed living root bridges surveyed: 25
Total miscellaneous non-bridge living root structures surveyed (including surviving and destroyed examples): 10

That may look like a fairly big number (especially if one considers the fact that 70% of the information on living root architecture online covers a grand total of just TWO structures), though it's not quite as high as I'd been hoping for.

This is for two reasons. The first is simply that the weather took a long turn for the worse in late March/April, which slowed things down significantly. The second: During my travels this year, I emphasized visiting places where I had no prior information. Many of the areas I went to in search of living root architecture were, for my purposes, blank spaces on the map, where I had no strong reason to think I'd find anything.

Surprisingly, there were very few places where absolutely no information was to be found. In many villages, the actual physical remains of living root structures might have long since disappeared, but there would still be a few old folks who could at least confirm that living root bridges had once been there.

As for the 53 standing bridges that I surveyed, it's very important to point out that they were in radically different states of health. A very few were in perfect condition, some were close to falling down, but most had some sort of threat to their survival. This means that in order to document the health phenomenon as a whole, a classification system needs to be developed to indicate the likelihood that any one standing bridge will fail.

What I'm proposing is a 1-10 rating system, with 10 being a living root bridge that is almost certainly not going to be destroyed soon, and 1 being a bridge where failure is imminent. This "Survivability Index" will have to take into account three factors:

First, the physical health of the roots will have to be considered. A bridge made from a sick tree, or with roots that have been damaged by people or by natural phenomena, would get a lower rating than an undamaged bridge.

Second, it will be important to take into account how well established the roots are: living root bridges famously grow stronger with age (under ideal circumstances!). What this means is that a physically healthy but younger bridge is more likely to fail than a physically healthy but older one.

The third factor to take into consideration is whether the local community on whose land the bridge exists is actively engaged in the bridge's upkeep. Bridges that are not under any sort of protection from the nearest village council tend to be in poorer shape, due both to a lack of strengthening and maintenance measures, and due to human-caused damage.

While I haven't grouped all 53 standing-bridge entrees yet, it's clear that the majority will rate at or below 5, with 11 of the 53 entrees being in the "survival unlikely" category (1-2).

This index will be subjective, and, in the absence of a scientific survey, very imperfect. But as far as I know, at this point there simply isn't anything to cross-reference my observations with. Hopefully that will change in the near future, but for the moment I hope that the index will serve to give at least an indication of what the actual state of affairs is, especially in areas that aren't tourist zones.

The other large body of information that will have to be grouped are the 25 failed bridge sites that I managed to locate. While finding new bridges could be tough, pinpointing the exact location of a former living root bridge was even more difficult: The 25 entrees that I made over the course of this year were only those places where I was given plenty of evidence that a living root bridge once existed in that particular spot, or where there was clear physical evidence of a destroyed bridge. There were many places where I observed several of the indicators of a former living root bridge but couldn't confirm that one had in fact been there.

As I wrote above, in many villages a faint memory of there once having been living root bridges persists, though this is rarely enough to make any definitive statements about these ex-structures. For example, in a village called Suktia, one person told me there used to be four living root bridges, another person told me there used to be ten, and yet another claimed there were once "more than a hundred." However, nobody could agree on where any of these ex-bridges were, and the only actual entree that I made from the village was a badly damaged, though still standing, bridge which seems to be the only significant remnant of the practice in the area (though further investigation may turn up more).

It's clear that most areas surveyed once had far more living root bridges than they do now, but what the exact number was during any given historical period is probably an unanswerable question.

What I'm going to do now is write up a report, in much more detail, on the findings of the last six months. It may seem like much of a muchness (I may be talking about 50 pages here!), but I need to get all of this information in one place, presentable, and relatively soon. I'll still be working on getting a website done as well, though I want to have made a more complete survey in Meghalaya before that goes up. There are still plenty of important places in that state which I need to visit, while the living root bridges in Nagaland need looking into.

More updates soon

Patrick




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$1,873 of $7,500 goal

Raised by 35 people in 18 months
Created October 19, 2015
Patrick A Rogers  
LP
$10
Labet Phanbuh
3 months ago
$20
Anonymous
3 months ago
JM
$5
jaris morrison
5 months ago
$15
Paulanthony George
12 months ago

There was never much hope, only a fool's hope.

$40
Samuel Tomaino
13 months ago

Here you go and good luck!

RS
$50
Rae Stabosz
13 months ago

Keep up the good work! Oh, and your mom sure LOVED her recent visit.

$200
Anonymous
15 months ago
$20
Anonymous
15 months ago
$50
Anonymous
15 months ago
TL
$10
Tommy Lawrence
16 months ago
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