Sherab Lhamo

In a strategic move to revolutionise the building sector, the Department of Human Settlement under the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport has introduced Mass Timber projects.

This innovative technology involves the engineering of wood products by laminating smaller boards into larger structural components.

The adoption of Mass Timber aims to reshape the building sector into a green, energy-efficient, safe, resilient, and sustainable industry. Notable institutional buildings, including the Royal Academy, Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law, and the two-storey Cafe Garuda at Chubachu by Dessups, have already embraced this transformative approach.

The Department’s official said that several sites along Norzin Lam are being reviewed for a pilot project. The initiative aims to test the production capacity of locally manufactured mass timber components, assess available resources, and ensure workforce readiness.

The chosen pilot project site along Norzin Lam is envisioned as a six-storey mixed-use building, surpassing the scale of the De-suup Cafe and necessitating additional materials.

To overcome limited production capacity at the existing mass timber facility with the Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL), the Department is actively working on establishing a domestic mass timber facility.

An expert team from the USA and Europe is assisting in this endeavour to enhance production capacity. The facility’s establishment is expected to take two to three years, following which the pilot project will be implemented.

By challenging conventional timber structures, Mass Timber seeks to make the mechanical performance of large structural components more predictable.

This technology holds the promise of reducing dependence on imported building materials, creating new markets, and generating employment opportunities. It also aims to replace mineral-based, energy-intensive building materials.

The anticipated benefits of mass timber include a reduction in the import of unsustainable construction materials, contributing to a decrease in the trade deficit. It encourages the use of high-value engineered local products, significantly contributing to the Gross Domestic Product and fostering a circular economy by utilizing by-products in other wood-based industries.

Furthermore, the construction workforce will be comprised of trained Bhutanese professionals, eliminating the need for skilled workers and materials to be imported from neighbouring countries.

While the country embraces Mass Timber for the first time, challenges include higher costs due to the absence of mass production, a lack of human capacity in construction requiring specialised training, and the absence of mass timber production plants, research facilities, and certification processes.

The official emphasised that once the mass timber manufacturing plant is established, costs are expected to decrease significantly, leveraging economies of scale and fostering a cleaner, safer, and more intellectually stimulating work environment.

To ensure the sustainability of wood sourcing, the department, in partnership with an international expert team, is formulating a business investment case for mass timber.

This involves a comprehensive assessment of sustainable forest harvesting and management practices, with all timber sourcing planned from the 21 Forest Management Units (FMUs) within the country.