One of the most striking physical features of Bhutan is its architecture. I was delighted to discover in Lisa Napoli’s wonderful book, Radio Shangri-La, that the University of Texas at El Paso was built to reflect the style of the kingdom’s unique structures, making a little Bhutan on the Border.
Inspired by one of the first photo essays about Bhutan, “Castles in the Air,” from the April 1914 issue of National Geographic, Kathleen Worrell, wife of the dean of the Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy (now UTEP), thought the images of the Himalayan kingdom resembled their setting in the Chihuahuan Desert and decided the Bhutanese dzong would be the perfect architectural style for the buildings of the school.
Since then, most of the UTEP buildings have been built in the Dzong style, creating visual harmony throughout the campus. Even the shelter housing an ATM, the guard kiosks and a Hilton Garden Inn on the edge of campus are designed à la Bhutan.
Two things that separate the Texas dzongs from the Bhutanese originals are the blueprints and nails — the 17th century originals were built on a massive scale without a single nail or drawing.
Now, UTEP will be home to an authentic Bhutanese Buddhist lhakhang (temple), originally constructed for the 2008 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., and given as a gift to the people of the United States. UTEP was given the privilege of showcasing the 40 ft by 40 ft temple permanently where it will serve as a center for Bhutanese culture. (See this video on Building the Bhutanese Temple by Smithsonian Folklife Festival.)
If you’re yearning to travel in Bhutan, but can’t quite make it just yet, you might well enjoy a visit to El Paso, Texas!