Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Thimphu City's Charming New Bus Stop

In the last decade, exterior designs of our buildings and other structures - both public as well as private - have seen subtle but marked departure from the traditional architectural design that use to be replicated in every new house construction. Houses constructed using traditional building materials and following strict traditional design guidelines of the old look beautiful, in addition to being aesthetically charming and visually pleasing. However, over time, modern architects and designers began to marry the old with the new - most often producing garish monstrosities that neither appeal nor contribute to the overall aesthetics of the surrounding.

Modern towns such as Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Wangdue and Mongaar are filled with these grotesque structures that attempt to retain the beauty and appeal of the traditional Bhutanese design, but fail miserably. And yet, we have to accept that in the times that we now live in, traditional method of building and design is no longer efficient, nor economical.

Although I am not an architect, I have realized that the beauty and the charm of our traditional houses and structures can be attributed to one principal factor: SYMMETRY! I noticed that in order to maintain symmetry, our traditional structures grow broader, as they grow taller. There seems to be some unwritten rule that is applied that ensures symmetry (Bhutanese builders use no drawings to construct houses!). This was OK during times of plenty. However we are now at a time when the only way to grow is vertically - one is limited by lack of space to grow horizontally, thereby unable to maintain symmetry. Thus modern Bhutanese buildings are a far cry from the traditional ones. For an understanding of what I am talking about, take a look at the following structure:

Times have changed - you cannot imagine how radically! Take for instance the rule that requires that only a person with a degree in architecture - regardless of his age or experience - can design and draw building plans. A master builder that has built the most beautiful Dzongs and Lhakhangs are no longer qualified to design structures, according to the new rules of construction!!! That is the most ridiculous thing and yet, there is merit in the rules. However, if that is true, then it is also true that the traditional method of building is no longer efficient or structurally or aesthetically sound. Sadly, the rules still state that the exterior appearance must follow traditional Bhutanese design. That is precisely why we have such garish looking buildings whose only qualification to traditional Bhutanese design is the Bo and Phana and painting of gargantuan Phalluses on the walls.

There is a need to re-look at our design rules so that our building look much better than they do now - atleast in the urban centers.

 Beautiful traditional structures that are charming and pretty

This brings me to the recently inaugurated Thimphu Bus Stop under the UNDP funding. I loved the design from the time the tubular frames were transported to the site - even before they were hoisted for installation. I visited the construction site many times - as the construction and the installation progressed.

 Thimphu's charming new Bus Stop - utilitarian, slim, efficient and sexy

The design is modern, utilitarian, slim and attractive and, above all, spacious. Imagine a clunky and obtrusive traditional structure in its place. The construction material is also durable and long lasting and element proof. I also like the fact that it uses tubular poles rather than MS angles. The space management is great. I visited it a number of times to see how accommodative the place was. I like the square sitting arrangements that in my thinking can hold 16 persons each. The seat top made of thick hardwood is a thoughtful choice. Even more, I like the fact that there are two dustbins and NO SMOKING signboard so that people know they are not allowed to smoke. It even has a CCTV although I am not sure if it is in service.

Ofcourse there are some visible flaws to the structure. For one, the roof is too small and needs to be much, much wider than it is now. The other thing is that I get the feeling that the gradient of the roof slope should be more. I am not sure that in times of heavy snow, the roof can withstand the weight. I also think that they should have removed or relocated the overhead electric wires that run over the roof of the Bus Stop - that could pose a danger. Other than that, the structure is great looking and sexy. Unfortunately, given the space constraints, I know that not all similar Bus Stops due to be installed in other parts of the city will be as spacious as this one.

However, the thing I want to talk about is not so much about the structure as much as the fact that we may be putting the cart before the horse. I hear that more than a hundred Bus Stops will be built around Thimphu, with funding from the World Bank. In my opinion - that can wait. What we need before the Bus Stops is: more comfortable buses and expanded network of bus routes and better paving of the existing roads.

I think the World Bank project should start with acquiring more buses while simultaneously building more excess points and repairing the existing network of roads in Thimphu so that the commuters have an enjoyable experience. That should encourage larger number of people to consider taking the bus, as an alternate means of commuting. Once the enabling conditions are put in place for a joyous bus ride, the Bus Stops can follow.

The World Bank project is essential and timely - but I think the sequence of project implementation needs rethinking.

My apologies - I am told that the construction of the City Bus Stop above was funded by the UNDP. Those that will follow will be funded by the World Bank.


  1. its good to see some positive opinion on the bus shelter..for you kind information the bus shelter was supported by UNDP and not the WB. The Bank is going to support the additional shelters that will follow..cheers

  2. There should also be a sign for "No Spitting Doma".

  3. It must have been the hand of providence --- someone had made a negative comment --- I wanted to post it but accidentally deleted it. This anonymous person commented that I liked the bus design because he assumes that the designer is a good friend of mine. Of the number of issues I have raised that I believe need consideration, this person chooses to single out an issue and interpret it in a way only a person incapable of positive thinking is adept at. It is a pitiable thing - but I suppose for goodness to qualify as a virtue, you need evil around you.

  4. Beautiful Images & Interesting Post. I Like this Post.

    Bhutan Bokar