Designing Built Environment for Comfort, Wellbeing, and Happiness in Bhutan

Utpal K De, Simi Mehta, Sajili Oberoi

Bhutan is currently on top of the list in the happiness index in the world. The carbon footprint here has been deeply controlled in the policy design for sustainable development and welfare of people with the least environmental damage. This is not just the responsibility of economists but also the engineers and designers.

Deependra Pourel, an architect by profession, environmental design consultant, researcher, and entrepreneur, based in Bhutan, is very enthusiastic about the integrated approach to design development, particularly in housing projects with expertise in sustainable development. As the key speaker in this discussion, he has highlighted some important aspects of architectural design in controlling energy use, environmental amenity, sustainable land, and other resource use.

The presentation primarily focused on the influential role designers play in creating spaces and not just interiors. This, in turn, leads to happiness for people. However, the irony is that the anthropogenic reason for carbon dioxide increase has been primarily the people themselves. It is thus imperative that humans control their consumption of resources to conserve the environment and give next generations the healthier earth we lived in.

In Bhutan, there are regulations to maintain 70 percent of the land as forest cover as part of the national mandate. Bhutan is also a very sparsely populated country with just 7.5 lakh people. Even though the country is very small, it is interesting to see that they have five distinct climate categories. There is a need for introspection on how one designs infrastructure, urbanscape, and so on.

He also elaborated on the Gross National Happiness (GNH), which is more important than GDP. It has four pillars: sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, conservation of the environment, preservation and promotion of culture, and good governance. Architecture is about the sustainable use of resources, not only during construction but also while designing a building. The environment is not only external but also internal, since people are also a part of it.

As humans, we have many choices, and these choices need to be provided to clients. Improving carbon footprint is the responsibility of humans, and it’s important for not only designers to understand that but also their clients. Also, there are some external factors like Covid-19 that are beyond the control and have important welfare implications.

Bhutan suffered from the ongoing pandemic because it is primarily a tourism-driven country. As a result of the pandemic, there was a lack of workforce, construction stalled for procuring materials, rising prices, unemployment and uncertainty over investments, and mismatch in skills. However, there were initiatives taken by the government, which includes economic contingency plans.

Two projects were highlighted – build Bhutan project and tourism resilience. Build Bhutan Project because Bhutan is mainly dependent on the workforce across the border. Tourism resilience was the second because despite tourism getting hit hard, they believe they can come back stronger and better in the post-pandemic situation.

The Government also attempts to reform Technical, Vocational and educational training (TVET) wherein children can opt to undergo skill formation for blue collared jobs to minimize skill gap. The other option is domestic tourism.

The philosophy which took Bhutan through Covid-19 also highlights ecological urbanism, integrated community, science driven appropriateness and breathing life into a building (greater control to the user). Design can be subjective so it is very important to use data and facts to make informed decisions and to explain those to the clients. The government also has an enabling framework which has in place development control rules, building codes, traditional architectural guidelines and drive for energy efficient structures.

A good design must include aesthetics, circulation, energy efficiency, cost effectiveness, sustainability and a low carbon footprint. Apart from this, a design for comfort and well being must include good access to sunlight, daylight and thermal comfort. There must be a balance between energy efficiency and comfort.

The Government of Bhutan, particularly, extends support to specialized firms. They want architectural firms to feel safe to fail and then recoup. Thus, political backup is important for construction and harmony. Land pooling, as a concept, came into Bhutan a long time ago when a structure map was prepared. For example, 20-30% of private land can be given to the government to create public places. Cooperation between people and government is of course, necessary for this purpose. The Bhutanese leaders are ought to understand how to use land for public benefit. While land is taken away, access to water, parks, public places and services is of course ensured for public benefit.

In contrast to Bhutan, India has space problem due to its high population density. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana sanctioned more than 2 crores of houses in recent time and more is on the card with fast urbanisation. It is important to understand how to build sustainable habitats. Despite the pressure to follow proper practices, only 10-20% follow the right structure. There is a critical need to address this bottleneck.

To conclude, it may be emphasized that collective change is only possible if all follow certain guidelines and principles in design and this decision is taken unanimously and globally. People need to recognize that climate change is a daunting reality that must be addressed. Thus, designers in India and globally need to embrace the idea of environmental considerations into their designs.

Other speakers who participated in the discussion included Professor Utpal K De, professor of Economics at NEHU, Dr Arjun Kumar, Director at IMPRI and Dr. Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director at IMPRI.

Authors: Utpal Kumar De, Professor, Department of Economics, North-Eastern Hill University. Shillong, India; Simi Mehta, CEO, and Editorial Director, IMPRI, New Delhi. Sajili Oberoi is a Research Intern at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi and Marketing and Communications Lead at BrainGain Global, New Delhi

YouTube Video for Designing Built Environment for Comfort, Wellbeing, and Happiness in Bhutan

Picture Courtesy: Google images


  • Ritika Gupta

    Ritika Gupta is a senior research assistant at Impact and Policy Research Institute. Her research Interests include Gender Studies, Public Policy and Development, Climate Change and Sustainable Development.

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