New research investigates the jing kieng jri or living root bridges structures and proposes to integrate them in modern architecture around the world, and potentially help make cities more environment-friendly.

Will it work?

The jing kieng jri or living root bridges — aerial bridges built by weaving and manipulating the roots of the Indian rubber tree — have been serving as connectors for generations in Meghalaya. Spanning between 15 and 250 feet and built over centuries, the bridges, primarily a means to cross streams and rivers, have also become world-famous tourist attractions. Now, new research investigates these structures and proposes to integrate them in modern architecture around the world, and potentially help make cities more environment-friendly.

What did the study look at, and find?

Researchers from Germany investigated 77 bridges over three expeditions in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya during 2015, 2016 and 2017. Taking into account structural properties, history and maintenance, morphology and ecological significance, the study,

published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests that the bridges can be considered a reference point for future botanical architecture projects in urban contexts.

What is extraordinary about these?

A root bridge uses traditional tribal knowledge to train roots of the Indian rubber tree, found in abundance in the area, to grow laterally across a stream bed, resulting in a living bridge of roots. The process begins with placing of young pliable aerial roots growing from Ficus elastica (India rubber) trees in hollowed out Areca catechu or native bamboo trunks. These provide essential nutrition and protection from the weather, and also perform as aerial root guidance systems. Over time, as the aerial roots increase in strength and thickness, the Areca catechu or native bamboo trunks are no longer required.

Ficus elastica is conducive to the growth of bridges because of its very nature. There are three main properties: they are elastic, the roots easily combine and the plants grow in rough, rocky soils.

Source: The Indian Express

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper I; Geography