A dedicated happiness centre in Bhutan teaches valuable lessons in achieving contentment within facilities that inspire with their ecologically and culturally sensitive design approach.
Happiness comes in many different forms and variations. The pursuit of it is as old as time, driving individual motivations, aspirations, hopes and dreams. At national and international levels, the notion of happiness can be as abstract as it can be elusive – a philosophy of a sort that can, nevertheless, unify and connect individual ideas in a larger whole, becoming an integral part of a national ethos.
A lofty concept as such, the idea of pursuing happiness at a national level has been put into practice in the recent years in Bhutan, the first country in the world to apply the Gross National Happiness (GNH) rate instead of the GDP to measure the wellbeing of the country. With the GNH rate first implemented in 2008, Bhutan’s government executed measures to promote an alternate way of evaluating happiness rooted in non-economic aspects of wellbeing.
It is with this notion in mind that the Bhutan Happiness Centre came about as a learning and sharing platform to encapsulate the ideas and experiences of happiness through meditation and freedom. Set against a peaceful backdrop of a barely disturbed pine forest, the centre beacons with a promise of a noble vision that happy, balanced life should achievable for everyone.
With a specific aim to tackle two out of four pillars that comprise the GNH – the preservation of culture and identity and environmental conservation – the Bhutan Happiness Centre is a balance of natural and human-made elements that come together as a cohesive whole. Straight lines and curves of buildings that merge as part of the overall architectural language evoke equilibrium and peace within a setting of a sustainable universe.
Spaciously spread out on a sloping terrain next to the Bumthang river, the Centre’s architecture conveys a sense of belonging in its unpretentious language of vernacularism, deliberately devoid of sweeping architectural gestures or iconic monumentality. Designed by 1+1>2 Architects, the centre’s cluster of buildings that include a meditation hall for 250 people and a 100-seat convention house is driven by the ideas of harmonious coexistence of people and nature.
The two-storey meditation hall embodies the idea of the earth and heaven coming together with the first storey’s round shape fitting neatly under the second storey’s rectangular parameters. Similarly, the elliptical form of the convention house takes inspiration from the Buddha tree, incorporating vernacular decoration details within a contemporary context.
Traditional, locally available materials like wood, stone and soil compose structural elements that are, at once, humble and purposeful. Coming together as parts of a natural system, the harmonies between the materials connect humans with the nature around them and expose the Centre as a part of, rather than an intrusion of, a delicate eco-system.
Establishing a virtuous vision of attainable happiness for all, the Bhutan Happiness Centre sets precedents of achieving gross national happiness in action. With visitors from all over the world coming to the Centre with a purpose of exploring the fairly abstract concept of happiness on their own terms, Bhutan’s vision for societal wellbeing remains alive and well, inspiring a much-needed global outlook that happiness and economic success do not need to be mutually exclusive.