A full-scale static test was conducted at Department of Culture (DoC) in Thimphu on December 28 to check the strength of buildings.

This was done as part of a project titled ‘Evaluation and mitigation for seismic risk for composite masonry buildings in Bhutan’ that aims to preserve the existing stock of traditional houses and to build affordable and seismic resilient homes.

It is also to promote sustainable and eco-friendly traditional construction practices in the country.

DoC’s chief architect, Nagtsho Dorji, said that making earthquake-resilient houses was something the culture department had been working since the 2009 earthquake.

“Earthquakes in 2009 and 2011 damaged much of the buildings and it had bigger impact on our traditional buildings. Our aim is to really understand the characteristics of these buildings so that we can make these traditional buildings more seismic resilient,” Nagtsho Dorji said.

Three buildings that were a typology of traditional composite masonry buildings were constructed at the premises of the culture department office. “This could also be a place where people in general could look at the specimens and learn about building techniques.”

Bhutan sits on an earthquake-prone area.

“Therefore, this is all to understand how we can mitigate damages that come with earthquakes and basically, make our buildings stronger so that lives can be saved in the event of an earthquake,” said Nagtsho Dorji.

She said that currently building codes that exist in the country are largely similar to India. “What we again understand is that our buildings are constructed differently from what is constructed in the neighbouring countries. Undertaking such a test, really is to understand the construction techniques, as well as material properties of our traditional buildings.”

While the Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development Programme (SATREPS) supports the project, she said that the project was a collaboration of not only the Japanese counterparts, but also the cooperation among government agencies such as Department of Disaster Management, Department of Geology and Mines, Department of Engineering Services and DoC.

She said that this was one of the first projects in the South East Asia region.

DoC’s deputy executive engineer, Pema, said that during the process of the project, knowledge was also transferred to Bhutanese individuals working with the project.

The five-year project aims to fulfill three sustainable development goals that include industry, innovation and infrastructure, sustainable cities and communities, and partnership for the goals.

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the government funded the USD 3.10 Million project.

Rinchen Zangmo