Rapid development in technology, mechanisation, and hiring of workers from outside the country has led to a loss of traditional architecture, according to an architect and the managing proprietor of Druk Heritage Solutions, Karma Gelay.

Sharing concerns and aspirations of architecture in Bhutan, he asked the home ministry’s head of the conservation of heritage sites division, Nagtsho Dorji, on how appropriate it is for hotels, office buildings and gateways to have a sertog during a panel discussion at the Mountain Echoes’ festival on August 26.

He said that a decade ago, sertog, copper turret gilded in gold, was installed on rooftops of temples and dzongs.

Karma Galey, who designed the new dzongs at Chhukha and Tsirang, also raised the concerns of balancing cultural heritages and traditional architecture with modernisation and advancement  in technology.

Narrating the importance and significance of Bhutanese symbols and identities, he said that if walls could talk, it would not just speak but sing praises on the harmony of bringing the community together. “Dzongs epitomise Bhutan’s architecture.  The principles of traditional arts and engineering are visible on the walls of dzongs,” he said.

He also said that the way dzongs were built by the community together shows how a nation is built. “Communities used to celebrate the constructions of a building. This legacy and continuing traditions need to be sustained.”

This participatory approach is not practiced today, he said. “We need to educate and remind young citizens about this tradition of building nationhood.”

He observed that traditional architecture and designs are interpreted for decorations today. “The red bands are painted on the walls of temples and monasteries in the past. But nowadays, we see the bands in others colours painted on the walls of hotels. Religious items are used at the doorways of hotels. This spreads a different meanings of traditional identities.”

Nagtsho Dorji said that the new forms of design in architecture are a result of drawing inspiration from traditional architecture. “However, these modernised versions of architecture pose challenges in preserving the traditional architecture.”