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Architecture and living tradition

According to the Buddhist doctrine of the transience of all living forms, buildings are also not seen as eternal in character. Like all other aspects of material culture, architecture cannot escape from the cycle of existence either: the cycle of life, death and rebirth (samsara*). For architecture this translates into the continuous process of construction, destruction and reconstruction. The Punakha Dzong, for instance, was partly destroyed by fire in 1986 and badly devastated by flooding in 1994. Today the formerly damaged parts have been rebuilt more impressively than ever before.


In the course of history, the reasons for destruction and devastation could often be found in hostile attacks. Almost every dzong can therefore almost be called a living organism. When reconstructing destroyed parts, the planners always follow the architectural requirements stated by the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel; and yet, artistic creativity and progress in the craftsmanship always influenced the work.

The extreme size of some of the reconstruction sites often requires the assistance of the best of Bhutan's craftsmen: stone masons, carpenters, wood carvers and painter are called together from all over the country and work together at the sacred buildings. Each of them contributs his own skills and ideas. Thus the masters can also learn from one another. Progress in craftsmanship and art are always made with regard to the technology and artistic work of building dzongs.


When the craftsmen and artists return to their villages, they carry over their newly-won insights onto their own work at home.

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After the fire of 1986, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck called for the reconstruction of the fortress, whose architecture has had a determining influence on building activities in Bhutan in general.
Photo by Marc Dujardin

Many farmhouses show the influence of former dzong architecture: carved bay windows, half-timbered construction in the upper floor and the open space between flat and gabled roof. To support Bhutanese identity some of these stylistic features are nowadays required by law.
Photo by Jon Warren