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Different types of buildings
Lhakhang (Temples)
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Different types of buildings
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Bhutanese Achitecture

Bhutanese architecture is famous for its originality, its harmonious proportions and its adaptation to the landscape.

Kyichu Monastery near Paro

The first recorded buildings in Bhutanese history were the temples of Lhakhang Karpo and Nagpo in Haa, Kyichu near Paro and Jampa, Koebnchog-sum and Gayney Lhakhangs in Bumthang, built around the 6th and the 7th centuries. From the 11th century until the early 17th century, numerous lamas and their disciples built temples and monasteries all over the country. From the buildings dating back to the 17th century that still exist, it can be seen that they were relatively small structures with a courtyard enclosed within their walls. In most cases they were only one-storied built close to the temples were the lama's residence with the quarters for his disciples. Among the most active temple-builders in the 15th century were Ngawang Choegyal, the great grandfather of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, and Tertoen Pema Lingpa.

Fortresses such as Jathel Dzong, Chelkha Dzong and Dongoen Dzong were built by the Lhapa Kagyu religious school which once dominated the western region in the 12th century. In the eastern region, stone castles called khar were built mostly by the local nobility.

In the early 15th century, the saint Drubthop Thangthong Gyalpo, who was popularly known as Chagzampa, visited the country and built iron bridges in different parts of Bhutan.

The architectural landscape changed in the 17th century when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal introduced the construction of dzongs which became the model for all monasteries built or restored from that time. Gangtey Goemba, Dramitse and Tango monasteries are based on the dzong model.

After Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, one of the most active temple builders was the 4th Desi, Tenzin Rabgye, who at the end of the 17th century had Taktshang and Tango built in their present form.

From the second half of the 19th century and especially after the earthquake of 1905, temples and dzongs were restored and palaces were built. The active patrons were Jigme Namgyal and the successive Kings and their Queens. Some of the best examples of Royal patronage are the Kharbandi monastery in Phuenbtsholing, the Memorial Chorten in Thimphu, the new Kyechu Lhakhang in Paro and the newly built Kuje Lhakhang in Bumthang.

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Special characteristics of Bhutanese architecture
House in Bumthang

The eleven-day annual In Bhutanese architecture, there is generally no planning and designing done on paper before a structure is built. The chief carpenter is the master of work and he has the size, layout and structure in his mind. He uses parts of his body for measurement and proportions of the different features of the building. He supervises other carpenters, stone-cutters and village workers. No nails are used and the wood pieces are assembled by the dovetail technique.

The many examples of traditional Bhutanese architecture that we see were all built in this way. Architectural styles differ from place to place and from different periods in time.

The differences in style are due to:

- availability of building materials;
- physical and climatic conditions;
- social and economic development;
- religious and cultural traditions.

The main materials used have been stones, compressed earth (mud), wood and bamboo. Stone or rock is mostly used for dzongs and religious buildings while village houses are made of stones and compressed earth. Wooden shingles are commonly used for roofing. In some parts of eastern Bhutan bamboo mats are also used for roofing. Wood is used especially for windows, balconies of dzong buildings and temples. Windows have a distinctive trefoil shape and elaborate lintels painted with geometrical and floral motifs.

The characteristics of Bhutanese architecture are generally:

- lavish use of wood;
- sloped whitewashed walls;
- window size increasing with the stories;
- the trefoil shaped windows;
- the pitched roof covered with shingles and weighed down with stones.

Once the building is completed, artists often embellish it by painting different auspicious motifs. The selection of the site for any building, as well as the different steps of the construction, are guided by the astrologer's calculations and always followed by rituals. For religious buildings, the configuration of the site and good omens are considered very important.

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Different types of buildings
Lhakhang (Temples)
Kurjey Lhakhang near Jakar, Bumthang

Temples are usually one or two-storied buildings with a wide red stripe at the upper level of the walls and a gilded roof ornament. A small courtyard may be enclosed in the walls with the residence of the lame attached to it.Inside, the ceiling is supported by pillars, which divide the space into a shrine and an antechamber, and the walls are covered with paintings. The altar occupies one side of the shrine with the other side usually devoted to protective deities.

The rest of the space is left empty to be used by devotees for performance of rituals. Many temples are also housed in monasteries and dzongs.

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Goemba / Gompa (Monasteries)

The monasteries are of two types:

Simthoka Dzong near Thimphu

The cluster type is probably more ancient. It consists of one or two temples housed in a building and surrounded by small houses, which serve as living or meditation quarters for the monks. Some examples of the cluster type are Dzongdrakha in the Paro valley, Dodedra, Phajoding, Chari and Trashigang nunnery in the Thimphu region, Kuenzangdra and Tharpaling in the Bumthang region as well as most of the monasteries in the eastern region.

The dzong type is a monastery built like a fortress with a main tower, housing many temples and a surrounding outer structure which provides accommodation for the monks.

The most impressive examples of this type are Tango in the upper Thimphu valley, Talo in Punakha, Gangtey Goemba near Pelela and Dramitse in eastern Bhutan.

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