The original lifestyles in traditional Bhutanese houses are at risk of disappearance due to ongoing rapid modernization. This study aims to understand the spatial organization inside traditional Bhutanese houses through an empirical survey in Paro, Western Bhutan, on the uses of rooms and their names in local Dzongkha language.
The research objects were seven traditional houses located in two communities, Chuba and Atsuo, located about seven kilometers north of the urban area of Paro, which is the second-largest city in the western part of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
An on-site survey was carried out in the two villages to record the local Dzongkha name and the use of each room. In addition, the basic patterns of spatial organization and the use of each room/space were clarified and classified, and the following information on the characteristics of traditional houses in Atsuo and Chuba was ascertained.
1) The spatial arrangement of the traditional houses is different on each floor. The first floor is a non-residential space, which used to function as a barn for livestock and is now used for purposes such as storage. The living space is above this floor, and the top floor is a drying and storage space for the harvest.
2) The basic spatial organization of the main floor is, in order from the entrance, an intermediate space (Bako in Dzongkha), a living room (Youkha), and the Buddhist family chapel (Choshom) with an inner altar room (Tshamko). The main floor of three-story buildings is on the second level and that of four-story buildings is on the third level.
3) Common among the houses is the fact that the living room (Youkha) sees the most diversity in use and is regarded as the central space of life activities, while the Buddhist family chapel (Choshom) is the spiritual center of the house. The window side in the living room (Youkha) is the primary place for the view, sun and wind, and traditionally had precedence. The layout of the Buddhist family chapel, in which two rooms are joined together with the outer sanctum placed at the room entrance side and the inner sanctum placed at the far end, indicates its significance and high sanctity.
4) The ways of recognizing spaces find their expressions in local Dzongkha names, which differ from room names in English, thus reflecting the difference between cultures. Some names in Dzongkha (e.g., Bako, Youchu and Jabyong) express the placement of the space in the overall spatial organization rather than the room functions, as is the case in English. Also, Dzongkha room names for storage areas differ according to what is stored (e.g., Phung for food storage, Mithu for rice storage and Satao for fodder storage). These spaces/rooms do not have exact English translations, and it would be irrelevant to apply existing English room names to them. This should be noted for understanding the spatial organization, actual use and original characteristics of each room/space in traditional Bhutanese houses, which fostered Bhutanese people for a long time and engrave wisdoms on how to and what is to live in harmony with the environment.