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Mindfulness City in Kingdom of Bhutan Unveiled as Future Economic Hub

by Ron Bernthal

Apr 17, 2024

© Brick Visual

Bhutan

In front of an audience of 30,000 Kingdom of Bhutan residents and officials, His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck presented his vision for a new economic hub in Bhutan. Located between India to the south and China to the north, Bhutan is one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. Bhutan came late to global tourism. It opened its borders to international visitors in 1974 and, while tourism definitely increased, residents are enduring “light” rush-hour traffic in Thimphu, its capital city, as the only Asian capital without traffic lights.

Now, with talk of an Economic Zone project in the city of Gelephu in Southern Bhutan, a 386-square-mile Mindfulness City design plan has been proposed by BIG, a multinational architecture firm, in collaboration with Arup and Cistri. Of course, all design and construction work will be influenced by Bhutanese culture, which includes the principles of the Gross National Happiness index and the country’s strong spiritual heritage.

Bhutan

© Brick Visual

The future of the Gelephu Special Administration Region, located on the India-Bhutan border, will leverage its location and connectivity to South and Southeast Asia to lay the foundation for the country’s future growth and create economic opportunities for its citizens through investments in green technology, education and infrastructure. Bhutan is presently the world’s first carbon-negative country, mainly because of extensive forests covering 70 percent of the land. In other words, Bhutan is able to absorb more carbon dioxide than it produces.

Designed by BIG’s Landscape and Urban Design Team, the masterplan includes a new international airport; railway connections; hydroelectric dam; public spaces; and a language for local building standards based on the nine domains of the GNH: Psychological Wellbeing, Health, Education, Living Standards, Time-Use, Ecological Diversity and Resilience, Good Governance, Cultural Diversity and Community Vitality.

Bhutan

© Brick Visual

The Mindfulness City project aims to expand the country’s abundant biodiversity, establishing interconnected ecosystems and neighborhoods shaped by the flow of 35 rivers and streams running through the site. The resulting neighborhoods will resemble paddy fields, forming urban terraces that cascade down the hills to the valley, increasing its density from the rural and recreational highlands to the urban and dense lowlands.

The natural elements and existing infrastructure, agriculture and utilities of Gelephu will naturally create 11 distinct neighborhoods across the region. Each will be designed based on the principles of the Mandala and organized symmetrically around a central public space, where a gradual transition in density is created from small buildings dispersed in the landscape in the north to larger footprints within an urban environment in the south.

Bhutan

© Atchain

To protect existing and future development against flooding in monsoon season, paddy fields will be established along the site’s rivers and tributaries, running north to south. These will further function as biodiversity corridors for local flora and fauna, leaving the migratory routes of elephants and other wildlife undisturbed.

Neighborhoods within the city, divided by rivers, will be tied together by three main mobility connections. Occasionally, these double as transportation infrastructure combined with civic and cultural facilities, creating a series of inhabitable bridges tailored to each of the nine Gross National Happiness domains.

Bhutan

© Brick Visual

Each of the bridges will be home to key destinations within the city: a new airport, a Vajrayana spiritual center that allows glimpses into the daily practices of monks and masters of mindfulness; a healthcare center as a meeting between Eastern and Western medicine; a university; a hydroponic and aquaponic greenhouse, putting ancient farming practices and modern agro-science on display; a cultural center to immerse and educate visitors about Bhutanese culture and customs; and a market filled with Bhutanese textiles.

The final bridge, a hydroelectric dam, will be constructed on the city’s western border with a retaining wall offering viewing spots, staircases for meditative walks and a temple. Visitors and pilgrims can walk up and down many paths to the visitor center and temple nestled on the face of a manmade cliff. The Sankosh Temple-Dam embodies in architectural form all the foundational elements of Gelephu city, including the harmonious coexistence of culture and nature, conceived as a “hybrid child” of Bhutan’s rich heritage and its prosperous future legacy.

Wellness center

© Brick Visual

Many streets, paved with permeable pavers will provide resilience by allowing stormwater to seep into the ground rather than the sewage system. Local materials such as wood, stone and bamboo will be used in the new buildings, inspired by architectural themes such as rabsel, typical Bhutanese housing that includes timber-frame bays with multiple windows and panels, wooden lintels, cornices, and spiritual paintings.

Bhutan has two national airlines: Drukair and Bhutan Airlines. Direct flights to Bhutan’s international airport in Paro (PBH) arrive from Bangladesh (Dhaka) (DAC); India (IXB, CCU and DEL); Nepal (KTM); Singapore (SIN); and Thailand (BKK). Visas are necessary to visit.

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