A new democratic nation was born in 2007 when His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk abdicated his thrown, declaring Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk to be the new King and declaring Bhutan as constitutional democracy. The National Ceremonial Plaza is the iconic symbol of this historic transition. It brought national ceremonies and rituals from within the cloistered fortress-monastery, the Trashichhodzong, out of palace walls to the common people. The National Ceremonial Plaza is an addition to the recently constructed North Wall of the ancient fortress-monastery. Locally known as the Tsechu Plaza, this national public space is composed of tiered wood carved balconies; a large stepped plaza with a capacity to seat 25,000 observers/participants; green rooms and sanitary facilities for dancers and musicians; public sanitary facilities; pavilions for serving tea; and controlled entry points. A central dance and performance arena accommodates several hundred musicians and dancers. This is a large social gathering place that involves the people of Bhutan in political, ceremonial and festive events.
The 235 by 85 meters Trashichhodzong accommodates His Majesty, His Holiness the Je Khenpo and four hundred monks. For several centuries the main courtyard has been the venue of the annual Tsechu Festival (literally Tenth Day) which begins on the tenth day of the Tibetan Lunar month at harvest time. The Thimphu Tsechu is the largest and most spectacular valley festival in the Himalayas! His Majesty, the Royal Family, The Je Kenpo, cabinet ministers, ambassadors and thousands of peasants and towns people attend.
The architects worked side by side with artisans in creating the space, as traditional construction is based on artistic temper and classical measure, not drawings. The structure is crafted totally of indigenous materials, including Dolep granite stone slabs, blue pine wood, brass hardware and tin roof sheets from the Terrai. Given the nature of blue pine, the wood columns were wrapped in linen cloth and bonded with resin glue to the woodwork, prior to painting.
The final traditional columns are capped with flying capitals, carved beams, intricate roof purlins, wood corbels and carved motifs and then painted with local mineral colours symbolic of emotions, such as yellow eliciting a sense of wealth and royalty, red eliciting the feel of sacredness, black implying wrath, etc. Iconography depicting the lives of Rinpoche, his avatars, his human form and holy people adorn the walls.
SIGNIFICANCE The National Ceremonial Plaza is the focal public domain of the Bhutanese Kingdom, a national icon for its citizens and a functional facility to accommodate religious and secular events of national importance. Just as the Washington Mall or the Raj Path in New Delhi symbolizes millions of citizens’ roles in democracy, this public space is the “people’s place” for the six hundred thousand citizens of the world’s latest democracy! Prior to construction of the National Ceremonial Plaza all sacred and cultural celebrations were performed within the Dzong’s inner precinct, accessible only to small elite. The National Ceremonial Plaza brought all of the national rites and rituals out of the Dzong and to the people, such as coronation in November 2008 and the September Tschechu Festivals in 2008 and 2009.
Moreover, the National Ceremonial Plaza is a new, modern building typology for the Himalayas keeping the culture “alive” and rigorous as it adapts to new and democratic functions. The work illustrates that modern architecture can be created by traditional craftsmen, out of local materials, and within the architectural language of a culture, yet address modern and new functions in a new political era.