_Amankora Gangtey Lodge_
Located in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is a small Buddhist kingdom with a rich building tradition, most recognizable in its dzong fortress architecture complexes with towering exterior walls and associated courtyards, temples and monasteries. But perhaps more engaging are the traditional houses of rammed-earth and timber construction. It is a country steeped in tradition, from wearing national 17th century dress to work to strict guidelines for preserving their cultural and architectural identity. While there are variations in regional architectural styles, and from different periods, Bhutanese law requires all new buildings, to follow the designs and rules of traditional architecture in order to maintain their distinctive identity. These are set out in the Traditional Architecture Guideline.
It is within this context that Singapore based australian architect Kerry Hill designed the Amankora Resort (winner of the International Architecture Awards in 2011, Australia). Hill is renowned in Asia for creating innovative and regionally appropriate architecture. In an essay in Architecture Australia Hill states that: “The Bhutan project has been difficult but rewarding, not least of all because it has taken twelve or more years. There is great temptation to abstract the essence of what one feels to be Bhutanese in spirit rather than what is seen as being Bhutanese. The government, however, is clear in its directive that all buildings must look Bhutanese and this is to be taken literally, through written guidelines, complete with opening sizes and decorative elements.”
Amankora Gangtey looks out onto mountains that are part of the Black Mountain National Park as well as the adjacent sixteenth-century monastery, Gangtey Goemba shown above.
Combining aman, the Sanskrit-derived word for ‘peace’, and kora or ‘circular pilgrimage’ in Dzongkha, the Bhutanese language, Amankora, is a circuit of five nature lodges set throughout the central and western valleys of Bhutan. The resorts are located in small villages, and tourists are encouraged to travel between them in order to better experience the diverse landscape.
The buildings are Bhutanese in form, materiality and spirit, without directly imitating the traditional forms and ornaments. The lodges balance contemporary and traditional architecture. Features such as the use of stabilised earth, the roof structures, building forms and proportions are informed by traditional Bhutanese architecture.
The walls of traditional Bhutanese buildings are constructed from local earth which is poured into timber formwork and compacted using manually operated wooden rammers to form walls up to 0.6 metres thick. The earth wall is then plastered with white lime to prolong its life. The construction of the buildings for the Amankora project is a refinement of this technique, using stabilized earth technology, making the buildings more resilient to seismic activity. Here the earth was mixed with a percentage of cement and waterproofing additive. The mix was then poured into metal formwork’s and compacted in layers using mechanical rammers, and the exterior face treated with a waterproofing sealant.
The interiors of the public areas and guest rooms also make reference to Bhutanese design. The guest rooms are designed to act as cocoons, providing refuge from the Himalayan climate. All walls and ceilings are wrapped in local timbers. Floors throughout are finished in wide solid-timber boards, and window openings frame views of the forest and mountains beyond. Bathrooms are planned as integral to the living/bedroom area, with a centrally positioned fireplace inspired by the traditional bukhari (wood-burning stoves) of Bhutan. Furthermore, the rich indigenous weaving and dyeing processes are used in the custom designed and locally crafted fabrics used in the interior.
Questioning the effectiveness of the Bhutanese architectural guidelines, Richard Wolkowitz, an American architect who has worked in Bhutan states that: ‘Just putting traditional details on facades of buildings isn’t necessarily keeping the country’s culture alive’. Kerry Hill has managed to capture some of the essence of the traditional Bhutanese buildings and the spaces created, rather than resorting to imitation.
NOTE: I was unfortunately unable to get permission to publish drawings of the Lodge. These can be viewed, along with further copyrighted images, here: Phaidon Atlas.