As the first carbon-negative country in the world and a place where happiness is the norm, Bhutan is already a special place to live in or even just visit. However, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck has even bigger plans for the country, as he plans to build a new economic hub, officially called a “mindfulness city”. The new project wil be situated in the town of Gelephu, in Southern Bhutan, and was designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) in collaboration with Arup and Cistri.
The mindfulness city will have a rather different approach to tourism than often encountered elsewhere. The design is centered around Bhutanese culture, the Gross National Happiness index principles (Education, Living Standard, Health, Psychological Well-being, Community Vitality, Cultural Diversity Resilience, Time-Use, Good Governance and Ecological Diversity & Resilience) and the country’s spiritual heritage. Thanks to its set-up, the project should provide opportunities for the local population and facilitate economic growth in a sustainable way. To that purpose, the city envelops several initiatives regarding green technology, education and infrastructure: an international airport, railway connections and a hydroelectric dam are just some of the planned arrangements.
As 70% of Bhutan’s land surface is covered by forest and as the nation greatly concentrates on biodiversity, the plans for the mindfulness city place natural landscape at the forefront, including hills, waterways and all kinds of ecosystems already present on-site. In order to protect its inhabitants from the Monsoon season and its implications, rice fields will be installed around the rivers, facilitating the passing through of animals at the same time.
“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. 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”, explained Bjarke Ingels, Founder and Creative Director of the Bjarke Ingels Group.
All neighbourhoods in the project are designed around a central communal space in order to encourage social exchanges. Three primary mobility links will connect the neighbourhoods making use of nine bridges, each of which is designed as major landmark dedicated to one of the Gross National Happiness Index principles. The bridges will also serve practical functions, such housing a hydroelectric dam or a healthcare center.
As far as tourists are concerned, the city will function as a gateway to the rest of the country. The international airport in the region has already opened its doors in 2023 but the rest of the project will gradually be developed over the course of the coming years.