Conserving traditional Bhutanese architecture

Tandin’s Zam house in Changjokha, Punakha, is one of the three proposed buildings to be preserved (Photo: DoC)

At the deliberation on the survey on traditional rammed earth buildings yesterday in Thimphu, three traditional houses from western region of Bhutan were proposed for preservation.

These buildings are in Kabisa in Thimphu, Changjokha in Punakha, and in Talung Toed in Haa.

The survey began in 2012 and is ongoing.  The project is scheduled to be completed in 2019.

The project began following the September 2012 earthquake, which damaged most of the traditional buildings in the country.

Head of Division for Conservation of Heritage Sites (DCHS), Nagtsho Dorji, said that among the main objectives of the project were to study the structural characteristics of traditional buildings, methods to improve disaster resilience, and to study feasible and appropriate manner to preserve their heritage value.

She added that activities in the project concentrated on architectural study, which looked at typology of the traditional houses, chronological and regional features, construction methods and practice of traditional buildings, and to understand the views of Bhutanese on conservation of the traditional buildings.

“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 vibration characteristics of the traditional buildings. More than 100 buildings in Haa, Punakha, Thimphu, Paro, and Chukha were surveyed.

Along with officials from Department of Culture (DoC), experts and representatives from Japan, house owners of the proposed buildings for preservation attended the workshop.

Financial constraint for 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 waiving off underdevelopment 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 conservation of the buildings would help gain financial support from government and donors for sustenance.

DCHS’s senior architect, Yeshi Samdrup, shared the benefit of enactment of the culture heritage bill.

He said that the bill’s registration and designation of the culture heritage aspect would foster people’s sense of ownership and help achieve good balance between culture heritage and other values, including economic development. “For the buildings to be recognised as a culture heritage, distinctive typology, specificity of style, historical value, aesthetic and artistic value, and social value are required of the vernacular houses.”

The bill, which was drafted in 2016, will be forwarded for enactment in the next Parliament.

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 the 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.”

Phurpa Lhamo

Source: Kuensel Online March 14, 2018

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