Bhutan stands out as a country that has successfully preserved its traditional architectural concepts in building construction. Unlike many other countries, Bhutanese construction has remained largely untouched by modern influences, with timber being the primary material used in all types of constructions. Even in urban areas, timber is used for windows and door frames, showcasing the country’s commitment to maintaining its traditional architectural identity.
However, there is now an opportunity to embrace modern construction techniques while still conserving traditional Bhutanese designs. Fiber Reinforced Products (FRP), Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC), and Glass Fiber Reinforced Cement Concrete (GRC) have proven to be successful in preserving the essence of traditional architecture and other related features. These materials offer alternative options that are not only suitable but also advantageous in terms of durability, structural strength, and aesthetics.
Unfortunately, some recent government constructions have exhibited a mismatch between structural strength and external facade. For instance, the mother and child care building in the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital premises have RCC structures for the ground floors but timber structures for the first floor Rabsey with Ekra wall. This discrepancy not only compromises the structural integrity of the building but also detracts from its overall visual appeal. Therefore, it is crucial for the authorities to conduct in-depth studies and evaluations of building designs before construction, considering the significant costs involved, whether through grants or soft loans. This will ensure that structural consistency and aesthetic harmony are maintained throughout the construction process.
In Bhutan, we can already witness the successful utilization of GRC and FRP in various structures, especially in cornice and railing works. These modern materials often surpass timber in terms of visual elegance and design intricacy. It is essential to promote the use of these alternative materials to encourage good architectural practices and enhance the overall aesthetic quality of Bhutanese buildings.
Given Bhutan’s commitment to environmental conservation, it is suggested that organizations working on climate change scenarios should provide subsidies for the conservation of forests. The National Environmental Commission (NEC) and UN representatives in the country should actively advise the government on the potential benefits of using FRP, RCC, and GRC in construction. These bodies can also provide the necessary financial support to facilitate the transition to more sustainable construction practices. Bhutan’s status as the first carbon-negative country in the world demonstrates its commitment to environmental preservation, but it still faces the constant threat of climate change. Melting glaciers, rising water levels in glacial lakes, and the diverse climate patterns across the country pose significant challenges.
Bhutan’s commitment to forest conservation is commendable, with over 70% of the land area currently under protection. By adopting GRC, RCC, or FRP in construction materials, the conservation coverage could potentially exceed 70%, aligning with the aims of the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB). The protection and expansion of forest coverage will significantly contribute to climate change mitigation efforts, as forests serve as a direct tool for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Furthermore, the use of FRP and GRC in construction materials offers an opportunity to save the forest environment in Bhutan. Timber is a limited resource, and its excessive use in construction contributes to deforestation and habitat loss. By replacing timber with FRP and GRC, Bhutan can reduce its reliance on logging and timber extraction, leading to the preservation of the country’s valuable forest ecosystems.
Moreover, the aesthetic appeal of FRP and GRC cannot be overlooked. These materials provide endless design possibilities, allowing architects and builders to create intricate and visually stunning structures that preserve the essence of Bhutanese architecture. By embracing these modern materials, Bhutan can not only safeguard its architectural heritage but also showcase its cultural identity to the world, attracting tourists and promoting sustainable tourism.
However, the adoption of FRP, RCC, and GRC should be approached with careful consideration and proper research. While these materials offer numerous advantages, their environmental impact, production processes, and long-term maintenance should be thoroughly assessed. Bhutan must ensure that the production and disposal of these materials do not contribute to other ecological issues or pollution. Additionally, training and capacity building programs should be implemented to equip local artisans and construction workers with the necessary skills to work with these new materials effectively. Bhutan’s climate is characterized by dramatic variations in elevation. The Duars plain tends to be hot and humid, while the lesser Himalaya region experiences cooler temperatures. The areas in the Greater Himalayas resemble alpine tundra. These climatic differences create a unique challenge for the construction industry. It is, therefore, crucial for the authorities to carefully compare the long-term benefits and cost savings associated with timber versus GRC/FRP construction materials. Sustainable construction practices not only contribute to environmental conservation but also offer potential cost savings in the long run.
In conclusion, Bhutan stands as a unique country that has successfully preserved its traditional architectural concepts in building construction. However, there is an opportunity to integrate modern construction techniques while still conserving the essence of Bhutanese designs. The use of FRP, RCC, and GRC can provide sustainable alternatives to timber, offering superior structural strength, durability, and aesthetic appeal. By embracing these materials, Bhutan can contribute to environmental conservation by reducing reliance on logging and timber extraction, while also enhancing the resilience of its buildings to seismic activities. The NEC, UN representatives, and other relevant organizations should play a crucial role in advising and supporting the Bhutanese government in this transition. With careful consideration and proper research, Bhutan can strike a balance between tradition and innovation, ensuring the preservation of its unique architectural heritage for generations to come.