Conserving Traditional Bhutanese Architecture
“The old buildings are important as a testimony of the past. It is not only important to preserve these houses, but also to encourage the people to make similar houses in the future."
At the deliberation after the survey on traditional rammed earth buildings on 13 March in Thimphu, three traditional houses from the western region of Bhutan were proposed for preservation.
These buildings are in Kabisa in Thimphu, Changjokha in Punakha and Talung Toed in Haa.
The survey began in 2012 and is ongoing. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2019.
Survey project began after the September 2012 earthquake
The project began following the September 2012 earthquake, which damaged most of the traditional buildings in the country.
Head of Division for the Conservation of Heritage Sites (DCHS), Nagtsho Dorji said that the main objectives of the project were to study the structural characteristics of traditional buildings, discover methods to improve disaster resilience and to study feasible and appropriate methods to preserve their heritage value.
She added that activities in the project concentrated on architectural study, which looked at the typology of the traditional houses, chronological and regional features, construction methods and the practice of traditional buildings.
The views of Bhutanese on the conservation of the traditional buildings were also taken into consideration.
“After the earthquake in 2012, everyone wanted to reconstruct the buildings in a very modern design, which would have sufficed to the immediate requirement but in the long run would have actually affected the cultural heritage of Bhutan,” Nagtsho Dorji said.
The survey also measured and analysed the vibration characteristics of the traditional buildings. More than 100 buildings in Haa, Punakha, Thimphu, Paro, and Chukha were surveyed.
Source: Courtesy of https://www.amazon.com/Traditional-Bhutanese-Houses-Survey-Research
Along with officials from the Department of Culture (DoC), experts and representatives from Japan, house owners of the proposed buildings for preservation attended the workshop.
Concerns raised at the workshop
The financial constraint for the renovation and sustenance viability were among the concerns raised at the workshop.
Nagtsho Dorji said that the works and human settlement ministry had taken the concept of providing incentive in certain areas. She added that the waiving ofunder-development tax and timber subsidy were an option.
“We want to look into providing financial support without interest. We also hope that the government will provide money, which will happen once we have legislative documents.”
Experts from Japan said that the scientific evidence from the survey on the importance of the traditional buildings and initiatives from the locals in the conservation of the buildings would help gain financial support from the government and donors for sustenance.
Benefits of the enactment of the culture heritage bill
DCHS’s senior architect, Yeshi Samdrup, shared the benefits of the enactment of the culture heritage bill.
He said that the bill’s registration and designation of the cultural heritage aspect would foster people’s sense of ownership and help achieve good balance between cultural heritage and other values, including economic development.
“For the buildings to be recognised as a cultural heritage, distinctive typology, specificity of style, historical importance, aesthetic and artistic values, and social significance are required of the vernacular houses.”
The bill, which was drafted in 2016, will be forwarded for enactment in the next Parliament.
The most common typology of Bhutanese traditional houses are on the verge of disappearing
Head of the conservation planning research section of Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Japan, Masahiko Tomoda, said that the most common typology of Bhutanese traditional houses are on the verge of disappearing.
He added that a legal framework for the protection of traditional houses, which is important, is encouraged. “The old buildings are important as a testimony of the past. It is not only important to preserve these houses, but also to encourage the people to make similar houses in the future. So, we are looking forward to the outcomes from the survey’s structural strength of the buildings.”
By Phurpa Lhamo (This article has been edited for the New Bhutan Times)