HomeArchitectureBIG's mindfulness town in bhutan envisions the sector's first carbon-negative group

BIG’s mindfulness town in bhutan envisions the sector’s first carbon-negative group

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Gelephu mindfulness city by BIG 

 

Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), in collaboration with Arup and Cistri, has designed the Mindfulness City in the town of Gelephu, aligning with His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s vision for a new economic hub in Bhutan, the world’s first carbon-negative country. Spanning over 1000 km2, the masterplan integrates Bhutanese culture, the Gross National Happiness index (GNH) principles, and the country’s spiritual heritage. Situated in Southern Bhutan, near the India-Bhutan border, Gelephu Special Administration Region is envisioned to leverage its location to foster economic growth and provide opportunities for the local population. The plan includes initiatives in green technology, education, and infrastructure, such as an international airport, railway connections, a hydroelectric dam, and public spaces. It also embraces local building typologies based on the nine domains of GNH, reflecting aspects like well-being, health, education, and cultural diversity.

BIG's mindfulness city in bhutan envisions the world's first carbon-negative community
all images by Brick Visual, Atchain, BIG

 

 

Interconnected Ecosystems and Neighborhoods IN BHUTAN

 

Surrounded by mountains, forests, and rivers, Bhutan is home to rich biodiversity, with 70% of its land covered in forest. The Mindfulness City aims to enhance this natural wealth by creating an interconnected network of ecosystems and vibrant neighborhoods. Inspired by the flow of 35 rivers and streams across the site, the city’s design features ribbonlike neighborhoods resembling paddy fields, forming terraces cascading from hills to valleys. The city’s density gradually increases from rural highlands to urban lowlands, fostering a seamless transition between different living environments.

 

‘The Gelephu Masterplan gives form to His Majesty’s vision to create a city that becomes a cradle for growth and innovation while remaining founded on Bhutanese nature and culture. We imagine the Mindfulness City as a place that could be nowhere else,’ describes Bjarke Ingels, Founder and Creative Director of BIG. ‘Shaped by waterways, Gelephu becomes a land of bridges, connecting nature and people, past and future, local and global. Like the traditional Dzongs, these inhabitable bridges turn into cultural landmarks, doubling as transportation infrastructure combined with civic facilities.’

BIG's mindfulness city in bhutan envisions the world's first carbon-negative community
Mindfulness City in the town of Gelephu

 

 

Linking Communities and Cultures in Gelephu

 

In the expansive area of Gelephu, the existing natural landscape and infrastructure have naturally given rise to eleven distinctive neighborhoods. These areas are meticulously planned, drawing inspiration from the Mandala principles. Each neighborhood is centered around a communal space, with a gradual shift from scattered smaller buildings in the northern region to more substantial urban structures in the southern part. As a protective measure against monsoon-related flooding, paddy fields will be established along the rivers and tributaries within the site, running from north to south. These fields will also serve as corridors for local flora and fauna, safeguarding the migratory routes of elephants and other wildlife.

 

The city’s neighborhoods, separated by rivers, are connected through three primary mobility links. These connections serve dual purposes, functioning not only as transportation infrastructure but also as civic and cultural hubs. Referred to as ‘inhabitable bridges,’ each one is designed to cater to one of the nine domains of Gross National Happiness. The bridges host key city destinations, including the new airport, a Vajrayana spiritual center offering insights into the daily practices of monks and mindfulness masters, a healthcare center blending Eastern and Western medicine, a university showcasing academic activities, a hydroponic and aquaponic greenhouse highlighting ancient farming methods and modern agro-science, a cultural center providing immersion into Bhutanese culture, customs, and a market adorned with traditional Bhutanese textiles. These spaces aim to facilitate connectivity while also offering cultural and functional significance to the city’s residents and visitors.

BIG's mindfulness city in bhutan envisions the world's first carbon-negative community
the project suggests a series of inhabitable bridges

 

 

The last bridge takes the shape of a hydroelectric dam located on the city’s western border. It features a step-well retaining wall designed to offer viewpoints, meditative staircases, and a temple. Visitors and pilgrims can ascend or descend along various pathways to reach the visitor center and temple nestled on the manmade cliff. The city’s streets are designed to create a sense of intimacy, paved with permeable materials that allow stormwater to naturally permeate the ground instead of burdening the sewage system. For the new constructions, local materials like wood, stone, and bamboo will be utilized, drawing inspiration from traditional designs such as rabsel, cornices, ornaments, and roofscapes commonly found in the region. This approach reflects a commitment to using indigenous resources and architectural motifs to create a sense of identity and sustainability within the city.

BIG's mindfulness city in bhutan envisions the world's first carbon-negative community

 

BIG's mindfulness city in bhutan envisions the world's first carbon-negative community
cultural hubs and civic spaces in the heart of Gelephu



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