21 September 2012

Our Outdated Towns

BBC was showing a video of a street in London shot over hundred years ago and they were amazed at the architectural farsighted of their ancestors, that even after hundred years they didn't have to change a slightest bit to accommodate modern metropolitan city.
London in 1902
Here in our country, where modern towns are only a few decades old, every now and then we have to demolish structures to widen streets and bring in better infrastructures, only to discover that it needs to be changed again. In last few years Thimphu saw many breakings and makings, yet streets are flooded with rain water every monsoon season, and often we get to smell the overflowing sewage. Thimphu needs to be changed every day and I don't think I will see a finished city ever in my life. Our designers didn't even see what would happen in 10 years time. 
Phuntsholing comes to a standstill every morning and there is nothing anybody can do to solve this problem. The problem is not with the population, not even the number of vehicles because these are expected with the change in time. This change in time had to be seen by our designers and planners.
Lets forgive them now because those days they walked straight out of their villages and saw lesser world to make any significant difference- or so I assume.
Now we have planners and designers who went to the best universities in the world and some of whom have multiple qualifications, they have seen the world and they have better resources in their hand. Therefore what we could least expect is to see our planners and designers build a town as good as the ones westerners did in early 1900.
And what came up in Khuruthang and Bajothang shattered all our hopes. Let alone standing and serving for centuries these two town failed in their own times. Even before completion they have become outdated in their structural designs and efficiency against the growing traffic. Each building accommodates over six families excluding the business operators on the ground floor and visibly there is parking space for only three cars. The parking space takes up half the width of the road.
Bajothang town from a Distance because that's the only way it looks good
Even before we had the buildings we had blacktopped roads, we had even pavements, we had drains, and sewage line. Now we have buildings, rough roads, risky pavements, hidden drains and blocked sewage. Everything that was built before was lost and it seems to take forever to get them back. Some constructions are frozen in time, and the construction material for a three storied house disables 300 meters of public land around it yet they are calm. I saw a construction of 40 storied building in Bangkok that didn't even throw a piece of scrap on the road that runs a few meters along it. Then I knew we Bhutanese are a big show off. Government structures here are like huts- be it Municipal office or the telecom office, perhaps to save cost, but what we don't realize is that we will have to rebuild them in next five years. The cost saving will cost heavily then. Children park and civic hall are like stories from dreams- the big space could be turned into parking lot instead of letting a jungle grow in the town. It's worse in Khuruthang though it is much older than Bajothang.
Bajothang and Khuruthang are repeating the mistakes made by Thimphu and Phuntsholing and the upcoming town could easily copy the trend but what would make the difference is to think differently and plan smartly, after all it is not everyday that we design towns. Hundred years from now when our children look at the pictures from our time they should not feel like they have reached a different world. We should leave behind what will last long than us.


  1. Interesting read,,,and being one of those "designers and planners" i regrettably accept the blame. And i regrettably would like to inform you that from what i have been seeing during such a small period of my life as an architect, we should be prepared to get such buildings time and often.

    In bhutan, architecture portrays a big cultural identity even to an extent that Bhutan is known through its unique architecture. But however, with time, new materials have invaded the market, subsequently the way we build architecture as well. HOwever, our styles have not changed to accommodate the changes in the technology, materials and construction, which of course results in architecture being such a simple profession without any need of creative minds. I dare say, carpenters and masons built in olden ages, but now even a plumber can do architecture. There are various reasons for it, of which prime reason being "Architecture practice in bhutan" is not really a big thing in its own that there are no laws regarding it. There are articles and bills regarding it in other countries, but here in bhutan, architecture donot have its rightful practitioners, in fact anyone who knows how to do autocad software thinks he is an architect and astonishingly s/he is able to create a building. Its one of those professions which is not protected in Bhutan. And interestingly it is also one of those professions of which criticism, anyone can offer. And yes sir, with new buildings coming up, you are right, we never seemed to have learnt anything.

  2. Can't Deny your opinion!

    Last time, me and my friends were having a Gossip about Architectural Designs in Bhutan and remembered about the news in which people argued about the new designs in Aman Resort (Paro) despite the government talking about keeping up with the traditions alive.

    Keeping this in mind, I think we should really preserve our tradition and also look forward developing our Country.


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