Architectural survey on vernacular stone masonry houses in Central Bhutan

Survey scene at an old house
A vernacular house in which rammed earth and stone masonry structures coexist.

 Since 2012, the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TOBUNKEN) has been continuously engaged in research on vernacular houses in Bhutan, in collaboration with the Department of Culture and Dzongkha Development (DCDD), Ministry of Home Affairs, Royal Government of Bhutan. The DCDD promotes a policy of preserving and utilizing vernacular houses by integrating them into the legal protection framework of cultural heritage, while TOBUNKEN supports the initiative from academic and technical aspects.

 Following the previous survey conducted in the eastern region from April to May 2023, the second field survey mission of this year was implemented from October 29 to November 4. Four staff members of TOBUNKEN, one from Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (NABUNKEN), and two external experts were dispatched, and the team was joined by two staff members from DCDD. We jointly carried out a field survey in the two provinces of the central region, namely Bumthang and Wangdue Phodrang.

 Most of the target houses had been identified in our preparative survey conducted in 2022. Eleven houses in total, including those newly found, were investigated this time in a detailed manner that included taking measurements and interviewing the residents. Two houses among them were rammed earth houses commonly seen in the western area of the country, and six were stone masonry houses widely located in the eastern area, while both construction techniques were combined in the other three houses. Especially in the eastern part of Wangdue Phodrang province, a tendency had been observed that the rammed earth technique was exclusively used further in the past, and stone masonry has gradually become dominant over time. However, our analysis of the transitional history of each house suggests that things were not so simple, and present more complex pictures.

 On the other hand, although we had been focusing on such aspects as building type, construction technique, and transitional history of the houses, this time during the interviews we started to pay more attention to ethnographic factors such as oral traditions about houses and how each room is used. By adding information about villager’s lifestyles, which reflected on the transition and locality of the housing type, into our consideration, hopefully diverse values of the Bhutanese traditional houses as cultural heritage will become clarified.

 The survey was implemented with the financial support of a JSPS Grant-in-aid for Scientific Research (B), “Vernacular stone masonry houses of Bhutan: study on the architectural characteristics and the suitable approach for protection as cultural heritage” with TOMODA Masahiko as the principal researcher.

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