International Competition on Cultural Landscape in Bhutan 2014

What is Cultural Landscape?

A Cultural Landscape is the result of harmonious interaction between humankind and its natural environment. Such landscapes are thus illustrative of the evolution of human society and settlement over time. Some elements that constitute cultural landscape are traditional buildings, rice terraces, pasture lands, community forests, sacred places and mountain passes. Cultural Landscape reflects specific culture, indigenous knowledge and techniques of sustainable land-use and spiritual association of human with the nature.

Bhutan as a whole reflects a unique cultural landscape bearing witness to a distinctive history, culture, wisdom and custom of the people of Bhutan. Sustaining this cultural landscape would strengthen national cohesion, identity and unity of the people of Bhutan benefitting both the present and future generations. Therefore, it is the responsibility of every citizen of Bhutan to safeguard individual heritage sites and the cultural landscape in general.

Introduction to the Competition

Bhutan has been fortunate to be guided by the wise and profound development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which emphasizes the need to strive for harmonious balance between economic needs of the individuals on one hand, and spiritual, emotional and cultural well-being of the society on the other. Through the framework of four pillars and nine domains of GNH, the Royal Government has made every effort to ensure development is equitable, balanced and village-centric realizing that even today more than seventy per cent of Bhutan’s population lives in the villages. Bhutan’s phenomenal achievements in education, healthcare, rural telecommunications and electrification, rural road infrastructure, etc. are testaments to this concerted effort of the government.

However, rapid socio-economic progress in the recent years resulting in tremendous changes in the aspiration and life style of the people have brought about serious threat to sustaining the social integrity and cultural fabric of the traditional communities particularly with large scale rural-urban migration. In spite of every Gewog, if not village, enjoying the benefits of modern development such as schools, health facilities, safe drinking water, telecommunications, electricity, roads, etc., not many youth want to continue staying in their ancestral village to make a living, thereby posing an alarming threat to the survival of our rural settlements and way of life.

Traditional buildings within the setting of rice terraces, agricultural fields, pasture land or forests characterize the traditional settlements in Bhutan, and form a common panorama in the country. These landscapes have developed as people adjusted to the geographical and climatic variation, and in the process resulted in the development of particular social and cultural activities. Studies conducted by the Center for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research have found that comparatively people who live in the rural areas are more happy than their urban counterparts. And this has been the trend in other countries as well, irrespective of varying factors contributing to this finding.

Therefore, sustaining our rural cultural landscape is a very important factor in preserving such healthy living environment for the people without losing the historic character and the cultural identity of the place. For this, integration of existing landscape and settlement pattern, local architecture, and other cultural and natural resources in our overall development planning and implementation is most crucial. First and foremost, we need to understand and respect our existing cultural landscape. It is in this backdrop, the Department of Culture is organizing the “International Competition on Cultural Landscape in Bhutan 2014” with an objective to learn and educate the ways of understanding and interpreting our cultural landscape leading to their safeguard and sustainability for the wellbeing of the present as well as the future generations of the country.

Four teams consisting of three students and a professor/lecturer from reputed universities of architecture/town planning have been selected to participate in this first International Competition on Cultural Landscape in Bhutan. The overall program consists of following three parts:

1. Survey and preparation of proposal: August 7 to 16, 2014
The four teams will carry out necessary survey and prepare proposals for the selected traditional settlement under Dopshar-ri gewog of Paro Dzongkhag to promote a sustainable living environment, and to enhance its cultural and social values.

2. Evaluation Meeting: August 18, 2014
Jury composed of National and International members with multi-disciplinary background will evaluate the outputs submitted by the contesting teams.

3. Forum for Cultural Landscape of Bhutan: August 19, 2014
The Forum is organized to create awareness on importance of understanding and safeguarding cultural landscape in Bhutan. Prizes will be awarded to the teams with outstanding proposals.