Architecture for a Sustainable and Happy Society.

May I, before I begin ask you to smile. Thank you because there will be very few occasions for you to smile because happiness is a very serious subject.

As have been introduced, the topic of my subject is architecture for a sustainable and happy society.

I am deeply honoured to be invited to speak at this important gathering of architects from around the world here in the capital of this nation that the world has known and respects as a great culture, an innovative and industrious people and as a harmonious society.

Your invitation has given me and the Bhutanese people the opportunity to visit the Japanese people and to express our heartfelt solidarity with them at a time when the nation is still recovering from the shock and pain of having endured one of the most devastating disasters the world has ever seen. Only Japan could have endured the deadly and unprecedented combination of the severest earth quake, leviathan tsunami and the consequences of nuclear power plants accident in the way that it did with calm and fortitude. Nevertheless, death and destruction were immeasurable: 20,000 dead or missing, and 40,000 displaced. We can only begin to imagine the psychological and emotional trauma caused by the loss of family, friends, neighbours, home and way of life. Yet, the Japanese were magnificent in the way they set an example to the whole world on how to face and endure calamities and endure grief with dignity and resolve.

The government, the community, families and individuals demonstrated how a highly civilized and disciplined society can deal with suffering and great destruction. They demonstrated how rescue and recovery can be methodical and orderly even where it is natural and obvious for chaos and confusion to prevail. Dumb struck, confounded and filled with helpless anguish by the horror of the images that streamed across television screens and splashed all over the newspapers, the world not only grieved but admired the Japanese victims and the nation as a whole as they responded with magnificent courage, selflessness, active compassion and resilience.

And what we saw and still witness today is the narrative of a world that is grateful to Japan for what it has done for it, for others and shared its wealth as it continues even under such circumstances today. It is a world of children, men and women praying for and supporting the recovery and reconstruction process in big and small ways. The Japanese Prime Minister, Noda in his moving speech at the UN General Assembly last week spoke of his appreciation for the extraordinary show of solidarity and sympathy.

Yes, the world mourns for Japan and is inspired by Japan at the same time. You have taught us what it means to be a true civilization when tested by the most terrible of circumstances. Once again, you have shown us that the Japanese spirit is indomitable where others fail. You will rise from this and any other crisis just as you did from the ashes of the atomic bombs. Our prayers are with you and we salute you.

Mr. chairman, ladies and gentlemen,

I have always been fascinated by architecture and the creative world in which the architects live. Enjoying what I believe to be the most engaging profession, you as architects determine how we live and will live in the spaces that you create and alter. You do so with grace and with audacity. Just as your ancient predecessors have created wonders with so little, you design and build with the facility of technology and with great edifices of the past to inspire you. You build dwelling places in cities, suburbia and rural areas. You build institutions, commercial centres and industrial structures. You employ your genius and exercise creative freedom and boldness to appease the egos of the rich and ostentatious on one hand while answering the call to meet the need for most basic and affordable shelter for the humble. You often satisfy your thirst for fame as well and there are monuments that celebrate your greatness. You create with natural materials; with concrete, steel and glass; and you have caused the development of new composites that lend themselves to the flexibility and durability that your imaginative structures must have and the customers demand.

It is almost always the grand structures and edifices that withstand the ravishes of time and the elements or their remnants that tell us the stories of great civilizations of the past. These are the works of great architects whose columns, cornices and walls are often embellished with artistic wonders. They seldom fail to cause awe and reverence. It is the architects who create living spaces, choose the materials and build the structures, arranging them in ways that enable access to services. Through their works, they define life, social systems, culture, destiny and how man relates to nature.

Architects are at the heart of what makes and interprets human experience. They are the ultimate narrators of human story.

And we know that man’s story is one of change, of hope, dreams, of destruction and renewal. But of late, the changes that we are experiencing are more about the unfortunate result of our callous and foolish actions. Our dogged pursuit of change for the better through material wealth at any cost has brought the world to a state when its own survival has become an issue. By striving for continuous economic growth to satisfy our insatiable hunger for ever more, we have destroyed much of the natural life support system and what remains may not last very long at this pace.

Ever so often we are setting off alarm bells that warn us of the finite and increasingly fragile nature of the world we abuse. Natural resources are depleting rapidly. Climate is changing and impacting on the ecosystem in far more complex and irrevocable ways than we can even exaggerate. Our snow crested mountains are losing their cover and the glaciers of the world are withdrawing and disappearing to alter, and gradually halt forever, the perennial flow of our river systems. Our hydrology is changing and we are experiencing freak weather patterns. Floods, hurricanes, storms and cyclones occur with increasing fury and frequency even in places where these were never heard of. Farmers can no longer rely on their ancient knowledge and suffer the consequences of drought, crop failure, loss of ancestral land to rising sea and salination. Earth quakes, tsunamis, land & mud slides destroy lives and property in such horrific ways and to such extent that even where they are most unlikely, people are terrorized by their spectres.

Just as numbing are the scenes of emaciated cattle dying on grassless pastures and raging fires engulfing homes and expansive forests. And then, there is the fear of epidemics of new diseases before their cures are found. The ice continents are melting, sea level is rising, marine life diminishing, and the ozone depletion continues. The very air we breathe is turning poisonous. Biodiversity is on the decline and with the extinction of each species, plant, insect or animal, man inches closer to its own extinction. We are heading for an ecological disaster from which none may recover.

Socially, we are disintegrating. We are failing to live together as family, friends and community and as one kind. Cities and buildings have become places that make strangers of even the closest neighbours; crime is on the rise, dependence on drugs and psychotropic substances is a common risk for the increasing proportion of people struggling against relational failures, production targets while forced to compete for tenure, reward and status. Prisons everywhere are overflowing and our legal systems clogged by the deluge of people who fail to live on the right side of law. People are unable to cope on their own in herds where selfishness, loss of decency and the zeal for individualism are tearing apart families and communities, and fraying further the tattered fabric of society. Loneliness, depression and suicides are the price that we pay and longer lives for many are a prolongation of indignity in the fringes of society.

On the political and security front, the world continues to fragment into dangerous entities with many holding destructive powers of the kind that even the largest of armies of the past could never dream possible. We have no idea who and how many possess nuclear weapons in this belligerent, divided world. The race for control of scarce resources is escalating and not only for precious and strategic materials and oil. Communities, cities and nations will seek to gain control over sources and distribution of water. Upper riparian countries will exercise water power making interminable struggles and conflicts inevitable. Democracy is the watch- word today. But even as democracy flourishes in form and by declaration, more people are helpless against the brutality of tyrants and corrupt governments than in the recent past. What sadly flourish in truth are inequality, deprivation and conflict. Even in so called mature democracies, one cannot find inspiration. Good governance is rare.

All these are happening because of our pursuit of material prosperity – because we think that development is all about GDP or GNP growth. The irony is that in the past seven decades that we have sought economic growth with little concern for ecological, social and other costs, little or no additional wealth has in fact, been created by human society. Much of what we think we have created is illusory – nothing durable and least dependable in troubled times. When the housing bubble burst and America spiralled into a recession, the American people realised how unreal their wealth was as they lost their homes, jobs, nest eggs and sanity overnight. They were not real. Likewise, even in Japan the nation that attained the highest of what is possible under the GDP model, many are experiencing unemployment, poverty and homelessness for the first time. And today, when this country is struck by the worst imaginable catastrophe, it is the old and real wealth of Japanese culture and social values that have come to the rescue.

Wealth is what you create for difficult times, to tide you over periods of want, to keep you dry and warm in times of cold and your stomach filled even when famine strikes. It is to provide for your needs during the winter of want, so that you can age and die in grace and dignity amid care and comfort. What otherwise is the function of wealth?

What makes for even greater irony is that society is no longer master of the means that it has created for the realization of its ill-conceived dream. The market is not within our control. Instead, the market has enslaved us through the lure of consumerism – by taking control over greed, our biggest weakness. We are victims of the vagrant forces of the market. And as we become more subservient, it becomes more authoritarian.

We do not know on what foundations our financial or economic architecture stand. Nobody knows and nobody understands even though, of late, more and more of those who swore by it speak of now its fundamental flaws. But nobody is in charge. We huddle every now and then and come out with the same old solution: that is – add more fuel to cause even bigger flames of havoc.

We can only guess what the market forces hold for us. Witness the recession in the US from which they do not know, whether they are exiting or are sinking deeper into it. The Europeans can only guess helplessly about the possibility that the unseen forces are leading them into a major financial and economic crisis. Likewise, the same forces may be conspiring to slow the emerging economies of China, India and Brazil. As for the rest of the world, especially the developing countries, what seems quite certain is that many will not even achieve the eight millennium development goals (MDGs) that are essential to ensuring minimum survival standards essential for these countries to actually pursue serious development by rising out of extreme poverty.

What will be the fortunes of Japan, the US or China – be in ten years. What will happen in five, one or even in the next quarter? What will be the fate of the Euro-zone? Nobody knows. Nobody dares explicitly to suggest a more predictable and manageable alternative. And nobody is to be trusted. It is scary at best and ludicrous in truth. It is a sorry state indeed in which we find ourselves at this time and age of great scientific achievements and intellectual wealth.

Where are we heading? What will become of us tomorrow when we know so little about ourselves today? How is it that we choose to be so? Are we prepared to jeopardize not only the survival of future generations but our own now for the sake of having more of what we do not really need? We need to act now. We need to change. We need to change the architecture of human society and its economy. We desperately need to alter our way of life and rethink our values. But going backward is not an option while we cannot move forward along the same path. We need to take possession of our intelligence and use it to find a way out and forward rather than accept the doom that awaits us along with all else that the fragile earth holds and sustains.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Bhutan has always believed that all the world’s problems are, as I have related, is interrelated and that any solution must be holistic and integrated in approach and content. Piece meal solutions only serve to aggravate. We have stated, time and again, that such a solution can be undertaken and devised only if nations were to subscribe to and be bound by the realization of the truth and be committed to a collective vision – one that is based on an understanding and acceptance of the ultimate human desire and the direction for the advancement of civilization.

I am happy to announce that the United Nations, this year, adopted with unanimity and without a vote the resolution titled, “Happiness: a holistic and sustainable approach to development”. Through this resolution, member states – 193 countries accepted a universal goal while acknowledging the limitations of our conventional development processes. It commits our nations to creating the necessary political, social and economic conditions to enable pursuit of happiness by citizens within a peaceful and stable environment.

My delegation that went to the UN stated that it is of the firm belief that happiness or wellbeing in the manner that it is promoted in my country against a well-developed set of indices would be a natural progression from the MDGs that aim at establishing the minimum conditions for human survival by the year 2015. Happiness is, unarguably, a universal value that binds the rich and the poor, the developed and the developing and articulates the ultimate purpose of life. It is about making true societal progress in ways that are meaningful, joyful and lasting.

Since the early 70s, Bhutan’s development process has been undertaken within the framework of a development paradigm that we refer to as Gross National Happiness. It is based on the belief that development must serve a purpose rather than be an endless process for continued economic growth that simply cannot be sustained by a world with limited natural resources within a delicate eco-system. As a development paradigm, GNH it is founded on the belief that happiness is the state of being that every individual and society seeks, and that the purpose of development must, therefore, be to create conditions that enable the pursuit of happiness. It is based further on the conviction that such a state of being can be achieved when the needs of both body and that of the mind are met equally without one gaining at the cost of the other. Material prosperity must not come at the cost of spiritual impoverishment.

Under the guidance of the former King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who conceived the approach in the early 1970s, my country, has been pursuing balanced development giving equal importance to:

Equitable and sustainable socio-economic development,

Conservation of our fragile mountain ecosystem,

Promotion of culture and basic human values

Provision of good governance.

No quantitative indicators were used in the past. However, popular interest in GNH from outside has led to extensive collaborative research with partners all over the world to create a set of indices. The result is an elaboration of the four GNH pillars that I just mentioned into nine domains each of which has an equal and critical role in shaping and conditioning happiness. These are:

income distribution,

educational attainment,

health condition,

time use and management,

psychological wellbeing,

community vitality,

cultural diversity,

ecological resilience and

good governance.

Like the precise dimensions of architecture, each of these happiness dimensions are measured with precision through a set of 72 variables or indices. All government policies and programmes are now subject to what we call a GNH screening process by the high level GNH Commission chaired by the Prime Minster. Those policies that are GNH negative are rejected altogether or can be reconsidered only when the negative factors are removed or mitigating measures incorporated.

In this regard, I am happy to report that my government, in collaboration with the UNDP, the Earth Institute of Columbia University, leading scientists and thinkers on the science and economics of happiness are working in concert to prepare for the Panel discussion stipulated by the UN resolution. Proposed to be held in New York in the spring of 2012 next year before the Rio+20 summit, it will be the endeavour of this meeting to present to the member states a set of policy recommendations to create the nine conditions for happiness through development processes to be undertaken in harmonious collaboration with each other, that is the member states, as bound by the shared sense of purpose. I believe the stage is set for a holistic and harmonious development paradigm that will put human society on a path to sustainable human advancement and true civilization.

Now, going back to my recognition of architects as unacknowledged masters who define society, I see you in fact as wizards who, on your drawing boards circumscribe not so much the spaces they create but design life as you wish to see lived. What would you as such, have your architecture narrate to future generations? What would your narrative be? I have not had the opportunity to study architecture seriously and before such an august gathering of luminaries in the field, I dare not pretend to have useful ideas to share with you. However, what I can do and am qualified as one whose life is conditioned by your creations, is to ask some of the questions that often haunt me.

What should the role of architects be in this new architecture of human development in pursuit of happiness? What can and will you do in respect of each of the nine domains that I spoke of?

What stories should the timeless monuments of your creation tell through their structures, materials, scale and aesthetics?

What will future generations understand from the cities you build of the way in which we lived as individuals, family, community and nations? Could they infer that ours was a harmonious society as facilitated by the convivial spaces you created for maximising social interaction and community vitality?

What would they say about our care for the natural environment as manifest in your architecture? Would future generations elevate us as one that cared and turned the course of humanity from the brink of extinction to being mindful of intergenerational equity – largely through new ethics in architecture?

Would your buildings incorporate all the great and truly green ideas that are on the fringes of mainstream architecture today? Will your show signs of the ancient wisdom you imbibed with due humility? Would they convey how, with sensitivity and responsibility beyond clients and yourself, you promoted sustainability through your buildings?

Will they have something good to tell of the escalating energy crisis and the ingenuity with which we minimized dependence on artificial light and energy? This could be a favourite question especially as one major source, ie, nuclear power, may have been abandoned as unsafe well before 2050.

What will you have posterity say about the features and conveniences you create to save and recycle water, heat and cool spaces as well as manage waste – of how your design created a culture of environmental responsibility? Would you have it said that ours was the generation that reversed the endurance levels of people to minimize dependence on artificial climate and made dwellers more healthy and resilient?

Is it possible that an understanding or a code of ethics you may establish now or in the next conference for voluntary adherence by all architects to a minimum set of norms and standards for ethical and sustainable construction in this globalised world, do you this would be appreciated?

Would you give cause to conclude that ours was the generation that reversed the onslaught against our natural life support systems and saved the forests and helped revitalize ecology through fundamental changes in building methods and materials?

Will you have the buildings tell the story of how we came to live within reason and affordability not on the basis of individual capacity but on the basis of equitable access to scarce natural resources and space and based on the understanding that all human beings need equal but far lesser space than the affluent are used to?

Is it possible that your edifices might give cause to believe that it was during the years 2011-2050 that cities were built or reorganized with the idea of reducing food miles by linking them to adjoining farm lands and by ingeniously enabling cultivation of a minimum of vegetables and fruit beside apartment windows and on roof tops?

Would our generation have designed cities and urban areas, home to more than half of the 7 billion people by the 1st of October the world population would have reached 7 billion – now and the 9 billion by 2050 that narrowed gaps between the haves and have-nots of homes?

What would posterity say if by design of streets and through regulation, ownership of private vehicles made no sense and convenient public transportation emitted no green house gases? What if localization of work place and home were facilitated through integrated clusters and walking became the preferred and convenient choice to go to work and return home?

Will the cities that you extend, restructure or build be of the kind that will be less daunting, less intimidating so that they do not bring out the darker and baser survival instincts as opposed to offering a sense of security and belonging to be absorbed by the warmth of their embrace and bring out the best in human beings?

What narratives will your cast in the walls and columns of cities and monuments that you raise, of the life we have lived and aspired for? What will the story of your broken cornices and crumbling walls be in a thousand years? Will they speak of a good, sensible and caring generation who loved the young and cared for the old?

Will our progenies and theirs look to our generation as the one that had the luxury of choice and did not fail to seize it for the good of all sentient beings? Or, will you and we together bear the guilt of having contributed to the demise of the human race, leaving none to read the narrative that be cast in the structures that we build?

Ladies and gentlemen,

How very appropriate it is that the congress chose to hold the conference this year in Tokyo. What greater honour could be bestowed on this great profession of architecture than the gracious presence of their Imperial Majesties the Emperor and the Empress? There are lessons to be learnt from the Japan of today. There are profound lessons to be learnt from the tragedy brought on the multiple disasters. I have no doubt that we are all deeply enriched by this unique experience and opportunity as professionals and as human individuals. May we all return from the disaster and this great country with as the conference theme states solidarity toward a sustainable and happier world.

I thank you for your kind attention and wish you abiding happiness.

Tashi Delek,

Thank YOU.


Lyonchhen meets Shri Narendra Modi Nath, Prime Minister of India

Lyonchhen meets Shri Narendra Modi Nath, Prime Minister of India

Read More