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   AN ARCHITECTURAL KINGDOM  At the Pass of the North
2011 - Volume 1 Issue 1
Vida Fronteriza
Academic Architecture
Article: Joe Burgess
Photos: Joe Burgess
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Willie Quinn, a member of the Heritage Commission and a ’54 graduate of Texas Western College, commented: “Since my college days, I have thought of the UTEP campus as being the most unique college campus in the country, not only just because its terrain is so typical of the architectural style of its buildings, but because the buildings have a common theme, not based on any radical architectural style-of-the-day. The settings of the buildings are open and visible for all to see, not being obscured by trees and ivy that detract from the pure architecture of the buildings, and in full view of I-10 motorists. Many official visitors from Bhutan have commented that the UTEP buildings look more Bhutanese than those in their home country of Bhutan.”

    Special Thanks

to UTEP University Communications
  Photo Captions

1.) UTEP Associate Vice President Greg McNicol

Visit the University of Texas at El Paso 90th Anniversary website:
  Recently completed buildings include the new UTEP Bookstore and the Foster-Stevens Basketball Center. In process is the College of Health Sciences and School of Nursing. In addition to the Glory Road Transfer Center, ground has been broken on the $32 million Swimming and Fitness Center expansion.
Kathleen Worrell, wife of the first College Dean, Steven Worrell, is the individual credited with the architectural initiative. She read an article titled “Castles in the Sky” in the April, 1914 issue of National Geographic written about the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. British diplomat and world traveler, John Claude White, was one of the first Westerners to visit and photograph the kingdom, and his photos of the dzongs or fortified monasteries indicated a terrain similar to the rocky outcrops at the Pass of the North.

The campus of the Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy, which later became Texas Western College and then the University of Texas at El Paso, was in the process of being moved to its current location and Kathleen convinced her husband to simulate the architecture from White’s article. The first buildings, designed by Trost and Trost, employed the gently sloping walls, high inset windows, projecting roof eaves and the dark bands of brick with mosaic tile mandalas common to Bhutanese dzongs.

Carl Daniel, of Carl Daniel Architects, designers of the Academic Services Building, said, “Each building on campus has its individual characteristics, but the incorporation of Bhutanese elements tie them together. Just as their counterparts in Bhutan, the buildings of UTEP cling to the mountainous terrain, with some walls sloping to the heavens. The natural diversity of the topography is maintained and the placement of buildings gives the impression of a mountain village.”

Bhutanese architecture is an off-shoot of Tibetan architecture, which is an off-shoot of Chinese architecture. UTEP architecture is perhaps its own offshoot, influenced, but not bound to any particular aspect of the style. Adherence, therefore, to traditional designs has yielded from time to time to more modern expressions. A building expansion, like the recent Engineering and Science addition, can present a real challenge to architects trying to return to traditional themes. Tommy Razloznik, of PSRBB Architects, said, “Related to our task of utilizing the traditional architectural practices in the addition to a building that had been constructed with a more contemporary version of the Bhutanese style, we made the connection between the two structures a transparent glass curtain wall, thus allowing the transparency of the window wall to bridge the old to the new.”

University President Dr. Diane Natalicio, a strong proponent of the architecture, summarizes that the Bhutanese influence has “created a beautifully coherent campus and forever links UTEP to a tiny kingdom on the other side of the world in the Himalayan Mountains of Asia.” At the ground breaking for the Glory Road Transfer Center, Dr. Natalicio quipped that the structure was “the world’s first Bhutanese parking garage,” since there are no parking garages in Bhutan.

Hanging in the University Library atrium is a massive handmade Bhutanese tapestry measuring 15-feet wide at the top, 16-feet wide at the bottom and a little more than 23-feet in length. The tapestry, titled “Four Friends,” is rich in color and includes a partridge, rabbit, monkey and elephant. The animals depict a folk tale of love, respect for elders, and living harmoniously. UTEP student Sonam Wangmo brought the hand-sewn drapery from her native country of Bhutan and personally delivered it to UTEP. “In Bhutan this image can be found in most homes because it’s said to bring peace and harmony among the family,” she said.

A number of Bhutanese memorabilia grace the campus, including an intricate hand-made prayer wheel and prayer flags, called "Darchor" (Dar - "to increase life, fortune, health and wealth" and Cho - "all sentient beings"). An exciting new addition to the campus will be a student study center donated to the people of the United States as a gift of friendship from the people of Bhutan that will be erected using private donations and grants. The structure, resembling a Buddhist Lhakhang, or temple, was totally hand-made for the 42nd Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. and displayed in the National Mall. Following the festival, the building was dismantled and shipped to UTEP, where it will be given its permanent home.

The first Bhutanese student attended UTEP in 1974 and since then the university has developed educational programs targeting the needs of the country in its shift from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy. Students and area residents have enjoyed demonstrations by Bhutan’s national archery team, performances by a Bhutanese dance troupe and musicians playing hand-made instruments. ///
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