Bhutan’s arts and crafts are harmoniously incorporated into the traditional Bhutan architecture. Its long history with Tibet paved the way for Tibetan Buddhist architecture to become the primary architectural style used in its structures. Each valley in Bhutan has a distinctive architectural style, which can be observed in the architectural materials employed, ranging from stone to clay.

An architectural review of a location: Bhutan - Sheet1
Bhutan _©

In contrast to today’s architectural education, Bhutanese buildings and houses were typically constructed without floor plans, and architects passed on their knowledge to younger generations. Nails and iron bars are not permitted in traditional construction, and skyscrapers and taller structures are uncommon in the country. 

Traditional Architecture | Bhutan Architecture

Since the 17th century, Bhutan’s dzongs were built as fortifications that housed its religious and governmental institutions. During a relative calm in Bhutan in the late 19th century, secular lordly palaces became a distinct architectural form as multi-story courtyard structures. The upper levels of houses were typically used as chapels (choesum) where religious artefacts like sculptures and paintings were kept.

An architectural review of a location: Bhutan - Sheet2
Traditional Bhutanese house_©

Clay, stone, and timber are used to build traditional homes and buildings. Houses are dispersed or built as a cluster rather than rows, because of the steep terrain. The majority of traditional family homes are relatively large and make use of sunlight. Usually, they are two to three stories high. The family lives on the upper levels of the building, which has an open attic where dried chiles and harvested crops are stored. The ground floor of the building is set aside for the animals.

Chapels, which also function as guest rooms, can be found on the upper levels. There are plenty of gaps between the roof and the walls of the dwellings to allow for ventilation. The roofs are pitched, covered in hardwood shingles, and supported by stones. Corrugated iron rods, however, are now more frequently used. As one climbs to the upper levels, the size of the windows steadily increases from the first story. Wooden handicrafts and paintings with floral, animal, and religious themes embellish the interiors.

Ordinary homes have varying architectural styles depending on their location and elevation. Thatched bamboo buildings are prevalent in the lower altitudes of the south, and stone construction is more frequent at higher altitudes. Because of the climatic and geographic conditions, houses are built with stone in the eastern parts of the country as opposed to rammed earth in the western territories. In west Bhutan, two-story homes resembling the lordly mansions are common, only at a smaller scale.

Religious Architecture

Monasteries (Goemba), Temples (Lhakhang), and various types of stupas (Chortens) are the religious buildings in Bhutan, and they typically resemble dzongs. Their white-coloured walls contrast with the deep red band at the top, intricately carved and painted windows, and golden roofs.

‘Cluster’ and ‘Dzong’ are the two architectural styles used in monasteries (Goemba). One or two temples are flanked by clusters of monk housing, which appears to be Bhutan’s earliest monastic architecture tradition.

An architectural review of a location: Bhutan - Sheet4
Taktshang monastery (goemba) _©

In Bhutan, Buddhist temples (Lhakhang) are usually simple single-story buildings surrounded by a courtyard. They frequently include gilded copper roofs and an upper wall adorned with a red stripe. At the entrance, there may occasionally be an antechamber.

Temples and monasteries are built similarly to Bhutanese dzongs. Their interiors are composed of Buddhist teachings, depicted in exquisitely detailed and vibrant paintings that adorn the walls.

An architectural review of a location: Bhutan - Sheet5
National Memorial chorten_©CamelKW

Bhutan is also home to a large number of chortens. Chortens symbolise the five fundamental components of the cosmos: water, earth, fire, air, and space. They have a dome above their square-shaped base and are built of mud and stone, after which they are whitewashed. People typically take clockwise rounds around the chorten as it is considered auspicious. 

Dzong Architecture | Bhutan Architecture

Dzongs are every district’s administrative and religious centres, dating back to the 12th century. They are massive fortresses built on mountaintops or between rivers and used as safety shelters during wartime. The monks’ housing and other religious activities typically take up half of the space, with the other half used for administrative purposes.

The entry to a traditional dzong is through a single gate. The walls are painted white to give a better appearance and are constructed primarily from stones and clay. Every dzong is home to a “Utse,” or central tower temple encircled by a courtyard. The dzong’s inward-slanted walls and black-painted windows provide a sharp contrast with the white walls. On top of the dzong is a red band called “Kemar” which symbolises the sacredness of the location. The dzongs are distinguished from other buildings by the golden square-shaped structure on their gently-sloped roof.

Religious artwork, inscriptions, and artefacts can be found inside the dzongs, along with swastikas and phallic murals. The pillars are also exquisitely carved with depictions of the natural world and scenes from Bhutan’s history.

Reference List:

[1] Wikipedia (2022). Architecture of Bhutan. [online]. Available at:  [Accessed: 15 December 2022].

[2] Holidify (2022). Architecture in Bhutan. [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 15 December 2022].

[3] Bhutan. (2022). Architecture. [online]. Available at:   [Accessed: 15 December 2022].

[4] KamakhyaBhutan. (2018). Types of Traditional Bhutanese houses Design. [online]. Available at:  [Accessed: 15 December 2022].

[5] Bhutanpawo. (2022). Bhutanese Architecture. [online]. Available at:    [Accessed: 15 December 2022].


A graduated BSc. in Architecture and soon-to-be master’s student, aspiring to specialize in sustainable and energy-efficient built environment. Having lived in both the Middle East and Europe has ignited travel as a passion, which she considers a valuable learning experience in the architectural profession, contributing to a spark to explore further through writing at RTF.