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Involvement in Bhutan

It all started with a fact-finding trip by the Bhutan Forestry Authority (BFA) to Switzerland in 2012. One of the delegation’s ports of call was the Häring Group member Roth Burgdorf AG. This was followed by a return visit to Bhutan. Impressed by the architectural potential in cutting-edge timber engineering, the BFA sought to order a pilot construction from Switzerland to provide an attractive multi-purpose hall for its new Royal Academy. Instead, Häring suggested employing locals to construct the hall from native wood – true to the Group’s sustainability ideal. 

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Technology transfer to Bhutan

The development project in Bhutan is making good progress. The first building there – the dining hall, constructed from locally produced glulam – was completed in spring 2018. The next step is to start work on the demanding roof structure for the multi-purpose hall this autumn. The pilot plant project manager, Mr. Wangchuk, CEO of NRDCL (Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited) in Eiken, was part of the delegation visiting the site yesterday to discuss further progress. Against all the odds, Häring and the local team have managed to construct a simple factory in the heart of the Himalayas to produce the beams for the Royal Academy’s dining hall.

Without doubt, working in Bhutan has been an adventure from day one – even getting the machinery there at the outset proved challenging. Häring used three containers to ship the equipment to Calcutta in India, from which point they travelled 800 kilometres and 3,000 metres in altitude to their final destination in Paro, arriving there in mid-2015. After setting up the factory and training the workers at Roth Burgdorf AG, the local team of eight succeeded in producing the first beams at the Bhutanese factory – all using just basic tools and with a lot of manual input. They make do without a wedge finger jointing machine – a key element in the manufacturing process conducted in Switzerland. Instead, they have to overlap each of the boards to be glued by one metre.

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Despite all the obstacles....

Besides the lack of technology and convoluted transportation, there were cultural and economic stumbling blocks. “Many Bhutanese people have their sights set on an official desk job, considering manual labour a fall-back,” explains David Häring, who is supporting the project both from Switzerland and on local visits. On top of that, the migration of qualified professionals is also an issue, as they seek opportunities for higher earnings abroad for a couple of years, Australia being a very popular choice. The same applies to the project supported by Häring.

David has also identified another major difference – the perception of time. “We are accustomed to pressing forward with work, whereas everything happens at a much more relaxed pace in Bhutan,” he says, adding: “I had to learn to make time for living.” On the other hand, he also took on board some of the Bhutanese culture: “I now have a different outlook on the hectic pace we pursue.”

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...we’ve nailed it!

Despite all adversity, we succeeded in completing the dining hall element of the campus. During his visit there in September, David set about manufacturing one sample for each type of component. In late autumn, the two carpenters Michel Steiner and Manuel Meury from Häring spent five weeks in Paro helping the local team with assembly and sharing their expertise. They returned home when 40 per cent of the project had been completed. The latest news is that the local team has succeeded in covering the roof before the start of the monsoon season in early May. “I’m delighted that the hall is now standing – this motivates us to keep going,” David says.

Having survived this baptism of fire, the team at the glulam factory can move on to the next task. After finishing the straight beams for the dining hall, the level of difficulty ratchets up a notch to the curved beams for the multi-purpose hall. They need to be completed by summer in order for assembly to commence in September.

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The Royal Academy

The Royal Academy is a campus for pupils attending their seventh to twelfth years of school. Once fully completed, the complex is designed to eventually cater for 700 pupils, although the mid-term forecast is currently closer to 400. The aim is to ensure 60 per cent of the pupils come from underprivileged backgrounds. The first 60 pupils, from all 20 districts of the country, started lessons there on 6 March 2016. The Royal Academy strives to offer all children equal opportunities for their intellectual, physical, social, emotional and spiritual development. Building the children’s characters is considered just as important as ensuring academic achievement. The values conveyed correspond with the predominant Buddhist culture – honesty, community, generosity and empathy.

 

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Häring in Bhutan

It all started with a fact-finding trip by the Bhutan Forestry Authority (BFA) to Switzerland in 2012. One of the delegation’s ports of call was the Häring Group member Roth Burgdorf AG. This was followed by a return visit to Bhutan. Impressed by the architectural potential in cutting-edge timber engineering, the BFA sought to order a pilot construction from Switzerland to provide an attractive multi-purpose hall for its new Royal Academy. Instead, Häring suggested employing locals to construct the hall from native wood – true to the Group’s sustainability ideal. After all, the potential presented by the Bhutanese forests is immense. At 28,000 square kilometres, the forested area in Bhutan is two-and-a-half times the size of Switzerland – yet the proportion of harvested biomass is ten times smaller. The country has neither an appropriate production chain nor a substantial enough market for that. The project spearheaded by Häring should significantly boost timber processing activities there. Häring is playing a key role in transferring the relevant expertise.