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BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Bhutan Architecture News - Dec 21, 2023 - 16:52   3646 views

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

BIG has unveiled a masterplan for Bhutan, the world’s first carbon-negative country, which is informed by Bhutanese culture and the principles of Gross National Happiness index (GNH), and the country’s strong spiritual heritage.    

Called Gelephu Mindfulness City, the 1,000-square-kilometre development is located in the town of Gelephu in Southern Bhutan. The new masterplan is being designed by BIG, together with collaborators Arup, and Cistri. 

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Aerial Mountain. Image © Brick Visual

BIG's new development is aimed at contributing to the country’s future growth and creating economic opportunities for its citizens through investments in green technology, education, and infrastructure. 

The program of the new development consists of a new airport, a healthcare center, a university,  a hydroponic and aquaponic greenhouse, a cultural center, and a market. 

The future Gelephu Special Administration Region, located on the India-Bhutan border, is expected to leverage its location and connectivity to South-and Southeast Asia.

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Craft bridge exterior. Image © Brick Visual

Designed by BIG’s Landscape and Urban Design Team, the masterplan includes a new international airport, railway connections, a hydroelectric dam, public spaces, and a language for local building typologies.

The new typologies are based on the nine domains of GNH: Psychological Wellbeing, Health, Education, Living Standards, Time-Use, Ecological Diversity and Resilience, Good Governance, Cultural Diversity and Resilience, and Community Vitality, according to BIG.

"Nestled between mountains, forests, and rivers, Bhutan stands as one of the last biodiversity hotspots in the world, with 70 per cent of the country covered in forest," BIG said. 

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Craft bridge interior. Image © Brick Visual

With the Mindfulness City masterplan, BIG aims to amplify the country’s abundant biodiversity by emerging as a vibrant tapestry of interconnected ecosystems and lively neighborhoods shaped by the flow of the 35 rivers and streams that run through the site. 

Creating ribbonlike neighborhoods that resemble paddy fields, they form urban terraces that cascade down from the hills to the valley. 

The city increases in density from the rural and recreational highlands to the urban and dense lowlands.  

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Vajrayana bridge exterior. Image © Brick Visual

"A place that could be nowhere else"

"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," said Bjarke Ingels, Founder and Creative Director, BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group. 

"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," Ingels added.

"Turning engineering into art and turning the forces of nature into power," he added. 

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Aerial town. Image © Brick Visual

The team preserves natural elements and the existing infrastructure, agriculture, and utilities of Gelephu to naturally create 11 distinct neighborhoods across the 1,000-square-kilometre area. 

The basic Mandala principles inform each of the 11 neighborhoods, which are defined by a series of repeating typologies organized symmetrically around a central public space. 

Through these neighborhoods, 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. 

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Airport interior. Image © Brick Visual

To resist against flooding in the monsoon season and protect existing and future development, the BIG team creates paddy fields along the site’s rivers and tributaries, running from 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," said the firm.

"Inspired by the Bhutanese culture of respect and compassion for others and nature, the Mindfulness City is designed to enhance ecological systems, through an urban development that connects flora and fauna, as well as people and ideas," said Giulia Frittoli, Partner in Charge, BIG Landscape, BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group. 

"It becomes a testament of humanity's inseparable bond with nature, and a global example of how to build a sustainable human presence on Earth," Frittoli added.

The neighborhoods within the city are divided by rivers and tied together by three main mobility connections. 

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Healthcare exterior. Image © ATCHAIN

BIG said that "occasionally, these double as transportation infrastructure combined with civic and cultural facilities, creating a series of ‘inhabitable bridges’ which are tailored to each of the nine Gross National Happiness domains."

Each of the bridges will house key destinations within the city: the new airport - a Vajrayana spiritual center which allows glimpses into the daily practices of the monks and masters of mindfulness. 

Another facility will be a healthcare center as a meeting between Eastern and Western medicine. In addition, there will be a university that exposes its academic activities. 

Besides, it will feature a hydroponic and aquaponic greenhouse putting ancient farming practices and modern agro-science on display for the daily commuters.

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Market interior. Image © Brick Visual

Another facilities will be a cultural center to immerse and educate visitors about Bhutanese culture and customs and a market adorned with Bhutanese textiles.

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Dam exterior far. Image © Brick Visual

The final bridge will house a hydroelectric dam, will be constructed on the city’s western border with a step-well retaining wall that offers viewpoints, staircases for meditative walks, and a temple. 

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Dam stairs. Image © BIG 

Visitors and pilgrims can ascend and descend along countless individual routes to the visitor center and temple nested on the face of the manmade cliff. 

Dubbed Sankosh Temple-Dam, the dam adopts all the foundational elements of Gelephu in architectural form, referencing to the harmonious coexistence of culture and nature, conceived as a hybrid child of Bhutan’s rich past heritage and its prosperous future legacy.

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Streetscape. Image © BIG 

The development incorporates intimate streets, paved with permeable pavers provide resilience by allowing stormwater to seep into the ground rather than the sewage system. 

BIG will use local materials such as wood, stone, and bamboo in the new buildings, inspired by vernacular motifs such as rabsel, cornices, ornaments, and roofscapes.  

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Dam close up. Image © Brick Visual

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Public transportation corridor. Image © BIG

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Roofscape. Image © BIG

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

University interior. Image © Brick Visual

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Vajrayana Center interior. Image © Brick Visual

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Village. Image © BIG

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

Wellness Center. Image © Brick Visual

Animation © Squint/Opera & Brick Visual

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

BIG unveils Gelephu Mindfulness City masterplan informed by Bhutanese culture

BIG completed a new skyscraper in New York City, which marks BIG's first completed supertall, and first completed commercial high-rise in New York. The firm released first renderings for a new whiskey distillery and headquarters for Blue Run Spirits, a Kentucky-based company and creator of award-winning bourbons and rye whiskies.

Project facts

Name: Gelephu Mindfulness City

Size: 1000+ km2 

Location: Gelephu, The Kingdom of Bhutan

Client: The Kingdom of Bhutan

Collaborators: Arup, Cistri

Project team

Partners-in-Charge: Bjarke Ingels, Giulia Frittoli

Project Manager: Nanna Gyldholm Møller

Design Lead: Dace Gurecka

Team: Anastasiia Golub, Filip Radu, Giancarlo Albarello Herrera, Krisha Arunkumar, Marius Tromholt-Richter, Matthew Goodwill, Monika Dauksaite, Sophie Høg, Xian Chen, Xu Lian

Top image in the article: Airport Exterior © Brick Visual.

Renderings © Brick Visual, Atchain, BIG. 

Animation © Squint/Opera & Brick Visual.

All drawings © BIG. 

> via BIG 

BIG concept Gelephu masterplan