What is Hill architecture?

When discussing the architecture of hills, a few factors are evident, such as slope, vegetation, flora, and fauna, as well as the heterogeneity of climate. The term hilly refers to any area that has a height greater than 600 meters above sea level. By this, the hill states of India are Jammu & Kashmir, Nagaland, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Tripura, etc.

When it comes to the architecture in hills, some factors come into play, like slope, vegetation, flora and fauna, climate heterogeneity, and land use. Architectural development and urban growth have accelerated in the hilly areas. In mountainous terrain, building construction necessitates extensive planning, site selection, and slope-friendly design. As a result of these harsh conditions, a wide range of vernacular practices and styles have developed utilizing local materials and indigenous techniques that cause minimal damage to the environment and are sustainable.

With the economic growth and rapid urbanization in hilly regions, the onus of developing multi storey buildings has been placed on real estate developers. Hilly locations, despite their allure, contain a vast range of geology, geomorphology, climate, altitude, and material resources. Unpredictable geological characteristics and ongoing construction operations, unstable climatic volatility, and hydrogeological circumstances result in several forms of risks in these places, such as landslides and mudflow, making building planning and design in a hill village a herculean undertaking.

An overview of Hill Architecture - Sheet1
Hill Architecture_©worldarchitecture.org

Building construction in Hilly regions

When planning to build a structure in a hilly area, there are four important considerations to keep in mind.

1.   Construction Site Selection

  •       Check for Landslide-Vulnerable areas
  •       Check for Slope and sequence of rock structures
  •       Check for existing subsurface water
  •       Check for existing streams

Landslides are the most frequent phenomenon in hilly areas, and their geographical extent is growing by the day. Examining a region’s history and understanding how it responds to diverse climatic conditions could be quite useful in preventing landslides. Also important is understanding how the various aspects of a hill interact together, such as the fact that the rock should never be angled toward the slope, especially when the degree of dipping of such dipping planes is smaller than the hill slopes at the location.

2.   Comprehensive Planning:

a)  Garnering topographical data:

It entails a thorough examination of geological maps so that engineers are aware of and comprehend the geological formation of the proposed development site. The geomorphological features, prior and current land use, ongoing development, construction activities, and issue areas such as previous slope failure should all be investigated using a topographic map and aerial images of the site and surrounding locations. 

An overview of Hill Architecture - Sheet2
Topographical map of a hill region showing contour lines_©study.com
An overview of Hill Architecture - Sheet3
Contour map showing lines joining points of equal elevation on a surface_©GISGeography

b)  Reconnaissance:

It aids in the confirmation of information obtained from topographical data as well as the acquisition of extra information from the site. It is also critical for hill-site development to discover and investigate protuberances to identify earlier landslides or collapses that can serve as indicators of the slopes’ stability.

c)   Site investigation:

Site research should be carried out in at least two stages for a hill-site building. Boreholes are used in the first stage, which may also include a geophysical survey. The field tests should be conducted to determine the site’s overall subsurface state, such as the general depth of soft soil, hard stratum, and, most importantly, the depth of bedrock. Once the general layout of the hill-site development has been established, a full site assessment should be conducted to gather the information needed for detailed geotechnical designs. Field testing can be conducted at the following places as part of the full site study:

  •       Areas of major cut and fill.
  •       Retaining walls
  •       Buildings or Structures with Heavy Loading.
  •       Layout
An overview of Hill Architecture - Sheet4
A stone retaining wall_©ResearchGate

3.  Design of Slopes

Slope collapse occurs in similar ways throughout the world, with the underlying causes being rather consistent across geological and geographic regions. As a result, the same assessment, analysis, design, and corrective measures can be used. The primary distinction is that the climate in tropical locations is both hot and rainy, generating deep weathering of the parent rocks and weaker slopes. Slope failures on man-made slopes can be caused by a variety of circumstances:

  •       Amiss or improper design, analysis, or construction.
  •       High-intensity rainfall
  •       Lack of maintenance

4.  Sustainable development

The ability of a civilization, an ecosystem, or any other interactive system to exist indefinitely without depleting vital resources or negatively impacting the environment is referred to as sustainable development. The construction technique should be designed using locally available, easily workable materials that are largely environmentally friendly, have strong climatic resistance, and have little or no impact on the hill settlement’s environment. Even though felling trees for timber may result in the loss of valuable vegetation, afforestation in hilly areas must be adequately supplemented.

Green Building Materials for Hilly region

  •       Cement-wood-boards
  •       Aerated concrete panels
  •       Sandwich panels (an amalgamation of two fiber-reinforced cement sheets)
  •       Steel framed construction
  •       Gypsum plasterboards

Design and Construction challenges in Hilly Environments

  •       Frequent and Seismic Tremors.
  •       Problems of soil erosion and landslides.
  •       Suitable orientation on the hill slopes.
  •       The existence of tall shoddy trees and dense forest areas, obstruct the winter sun required for the buildings.
  •       Limitations on the height of the building due to earthquake risk.
  •       High costs involved in the site development due to the cutting and the filling process. 
  •       Non-availability and transportation problems of construction materials.


  1. Akshay Dashorei. Building Construction in Hilly regions – Site Selection, Planning and Design. [online]. Available at: https://theconstructor.org/construction/building-construction-hilly-region/13519/ [Accessed date: 31/05/2022].
  2. dokumen.tips. Hill Architecture [online]. Available at: https://dokumen.tips/documents/hill-architecture-567d88a6866f4.html?page=1 [Accessed date: 03/06/2022].

She is an Architect and an artist who loves to paint and watch movies a lot!!! A nature enthusiast person loving Nature and believes that conservation is a state of harmony between men and land. She likes to learn new art forms in her spare time.