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Mindfulness City in Bhutan: A New Economic Hub Unveiled

Bhutan is getting a new economic hub. On December 17, King Wangchuk unveiled Mindfulness City which will be built in Gelephu town in Southern Bhutan. Danish architecture studio BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), along with Arup and Cistri, shared the masterplan for this vast city spanning over 1000 sq-km. The city’s design is inspired by Bhutanese culture, and the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH), and aims to mirror the nation’s deep spiritual heritage.

The city plans to use its location and connections to South Asia and Southeast Asia to boost Bhutan’s future growth. It aims to generate economic opportunities for its citizens by investing in green technology, education, and infrastructure.

Mindfulness City in Bhutan – Here’s What the Masterplan Reveals

Forests and biodiversity cover over 70% of Bhutan’s landscape, and Mindfulness City aims to boost this natural wealth. There will be eleven unique neighborhoods, each based on Mandala principles, arranged around central public spaces.

Mindfulness City’s master plan shows innovative features and infrastructure. There will be a new international airport, railway connections, a hydroelectric dam, and public spaces. The city’s design draws inspiration from the nine domains of GNH – psychological well-being, health, education, living standards, time-use, environment, resilience, good governance, culture, and community vitality. Building typologies will be based on these principles.

Three main mobility connections will join the neighborhoods, linking them as transportation infrastructure and incorporating civic and cultural facilities. These connections will be designed as “inhabitable bridges,” and they will feature key city destinations like an international airport, a university, a healthcare center, markets, and a Vajrayana spiritual center. One of the bridges, which is a hydroelectric dam, will include a temple. Referred to as the Sankosh Temple-Dam, it will offer viewpoints and staircases for meditative walks.

To mitigate flooding risks and promote biodiversity, paddy fields along rivers and tributaries will act as protective barriers and wildlife corridors, ensuring the undisturbed movement of local fauna, including elephants.

Talking about the project, Bjarke Ingels, Founder and Creative Director of BIG said: “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. Where nature is enhanced, agriculture is integrated, and tradition is living and breathing, not only preserved but also evolved. 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. Among these, the Sankosh Temple-Dam embeds the city’s fundamental values into a cascading landscape of steps and landings, that like a 21st century Tigers Nest will be a manmade monument to the divine possibility of a sustainable human presence on earth. Turning engineering into art and turning the forces of nature into power,” he added.

The city plans to use permeable pavers on streets to enable stormwater absorption and reduce strain on sewage systems. Local materials like wood, stone, and bamboo will feature in building designs inspired by traditional motifs.

Building the Cities of the Future

Urbanization and climate change will continue unabated. We must prioritize sustainability and climate resilience by constructing cities that blend with the environment, prioritize renewable resources, and integrate sturdy infrastructure. Innovating urban development means merging technology with nature-inspired solutions to reduce carbon footprints and adjust to climate shifts.

Prioritizing sustainability and climate resilience leads to cities thriving amid environmental changes, ensuring a high quality of life for their residents

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