2012 World Monuments Watch
Along the Chamkhar River in central Bhutan, Wangduechhoeling Palace rises from the Jakar valley floor, surrounded by the verdant colors of the region’s rice fields. Constructed as a private residence in 1857 for Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel, a legendary Bhutanese warrior, the palace was the birthplace of the first King of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck, Namgyel’s son. Under Wangchuck, Wangduechhoeling became the seat of national power in the early twentieth century, housing the king’s offices and courts. In 1950, the capital was moved to Paro, and ten years later the royal family followed.
For the last 50 years, Wangduechhoeling has been largely neglected, though a monastic school housing a community of 30 monks has occupied a small portion of the rooms since 2004. The palace and its ancillary structures remain a classic example of nineteenth-century Bhutanese architecture. White stone walls bonded with earthen mortar, wattle and daub partitions, and richly ornamented timber details characterize the complex, which was built around a central courtyard and houses priceless murals, texts, sculptures, and textiles.
Wangduechhoeling Palace was included on the 2012 World Monuments Watch after vandalism, theft, and the construction of a luxury hotel nearby prompted concerns regarding its protection and preservation. Stakeholders expressed interest in restoring the site and developing it as a destination for visitors. Such efforts would help integrate sustainable tourism development, economic opportunities for the local community, and cultural resource management.
Watch Day was celebrated in October 2012 by students who had previously participated in an essay competition about the site, documenting oral histories of relatives and community members who shared their memories related to the building. The students were presented with awards and given a special tour of the palace.
Since the Watch
A plan for the palace’s adaptive reuse was completed in December 2011 by the Bhutan Foundation and the Bhutanese Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, with our technical assistance. The plan envisioned the conservation of the historic fabric and the conversion of the palace into a museum of Bhutanese court life, culture, history, and craftsmanship. In the years that followed a thorough restoration plan was completed. Restoration is ongoing and will be completed in 2017.