Construction: The techniques employed to build traditional buildings are increasingly being put under the scanner.

Department of Culture engineers and researchers from Japan are questioning if they are earthquake resistant.

The mud-rammed traditional buildings are being tested for earthquake resistance.

In the fifth test, researchers pulled down two walls in Depsi, Thimphu. The structure resembled the ground floor of a traditional house and was built three months ago. Officials from disaster management, engineering services, and culture departments observed the tests.

Engineers used a backhoe to bring down the wall to record the strength of earthquake that it would withstand. The samples from the walls were taken for lab tests.

The culture department has a project, Bhutan: Improving Resilience to Seismic Risk with funding of USD 1.285 million from the Japanese government through the World Bank. The project completes next year.

One of the components of the project is to improve seismic resilience of traditional Bhutanese buildings.

There is no information or research on mud-rammed buildings, culture department officials said. There is no empirical data or research to show the properties of the materials.

The department’s officiating director, Nagtsho Dorji, said that such research is also necessary to preserve and improve upon the culture of the country.

“Of the numerous methods that are there, we’re looking for the best combination of techniques and technology to build strong buildings,” Nagtsho Dorji said. Without documenting through research, such culture could be lost forever, she added.

After completion of the policy and human resource development project, the department will publish a guideline for improved earthquake resilient construction techniques for mud-rammed structures in the country. It also includes the training of the technical personnel and the craftsmen.

The department conducted a three-year study in 2012 on traditional mud-rammed structures and construction practices in local context.  It was found that there is not much information on this type of construction.

The department’s typology study in Punakha, Paro, Wangdue, and Haa identified architectural designs, construction techniques and damage patterns.

Last year, a test was carried out on the structures of Paga Lhakhang in Chukha in 2012. Two further tests were carried our in the same year.

“This is the third test, and we’ve plans to carry out more,” said the project’s focal person, Phuntsho Wangmo. “This pull down test is limited to the actual representation of the behaviour of the building and we will have to carry out many more tests.”

The department is working on establishing an advanced laboratory with equipment for specialised tests.

Tshering Palden