All You Need to Know About Gelephu Mindfulness City

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The kingdom of Bhutan is planning to develop a "mindfulness city" covering about 2.5% of its land, which is larger than the size of Singapore.

On December 17th 2023, during the 166th National Day address, His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck announced that Gelephu city is set to be an economic hub for Bhutan. 

Gelephu Mindfulness City designed by BIG's Landscape and Urban Design Team, will span over 1000 km2 and integrate Bhutanese culture, Gross National Happiness index principles, and spiritual heritage. Located near the India-Bhutan border in Southern Bhutan, the Gelephu Special Administration Region aims to utilize its strategic location to stimulate economic growth and provide opportunities for locals. The plan includes green technology, education, and infrastructure initiatives such as an international airport, railways, a hydroelectric dam, and public spaces. It also incorporates local building styles based on the nine domains of GNH, emphasizing well-being, health, education, and cultural diversity.

Intergrating Natural Ecosystems and Communities

Surrounded by mountains, forests, and rivers, Bhutan boasts rich biodiversity, with 70% of its land covered in forest. The Mindfulness City seeks to enhance this natural wealth by creating interconnected ecosystems and lively neighborhoods. Inspired by the flow of 35 rivers and streams, the city's design features ribbonlike neighborhoods resembling paddy fields, cascading terraces from hills to valleys. The city's density gradually increases from rural to urban areas, facilitating a smooth transition between different living environments.

Bjarke Ingels, Founder and Creative Director of BIG, envisions Gelephu as a city rooted in Bhutanese nature and culture, embodying growth and innovation. Shaped by waterways, Gelephu connects nature and people, past and future, local and global, with inhabitable bridges serving as cultural landmarks and transportation infrastructure.

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

Gelephu's Masterplan

The natural features and existing infrastructure, alongside agriculture and utilities, naturally give rise to eleven distinct neighborhoods within the expansive 1000+ km2 area of Gelephu. Each of these neighborhoods is meticulously designed according to the Mandala principles, characterized by repeating typologies arranged symmetrically around a central public space. A gradual transition in density is observed, starting from scattered small buildings in the northern region to more substantial urban structures in the south.

To safeguard against monsoon-related flooding, paddy fields will be established along the rivers and tributaries of the site, running from north to south. These fields will also serve as corridors for local flora and fauna, ensuring the undisturbed migratory routes of elephants and other wildlife.



“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. 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.” - Giulia Frittoli, Partner in Charge, BIG Landscape, BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group    

The city's neighborhoods, separated by rivers, are connected by three primary mobility links, which also serve as transportation infrastructure and civic and cultural facilities. These links form a series of "inhabitable bridges," tailored to each of the nine domains of Gross National Happiness.

Each bridge hosts significant destinations within the city, 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 displaying ancient farming practices and modern agro-science, a cultural center educating visitors about Bhutanese culture and customs, and a market featuring Bhutanese textiles.

The final bridge, a hydroelectric dam, will be erected on the city's western border, featuring a step-well retaining wall with viewpoints, meditative staircases, and a temple. Visitors can ascend and descend along various pathways to reach the visitor center and temple nestled on the manmade cliff. The Sankosh Temple-Dam symbolizes the harmonious coexistence of culture and nature, embodying Bhutan's rich past heritage and promising future legacy.

Streets within the city are designed for intimacy, paved with permeable materials to allow stormwater to seep into the ground rather than burdening the sewage system. New constructions will utilize local materials such as wood, stone, and bamboo, inspired by vernacular motifs like rabsel, cornices, ornaments, and roofscapes.

Video of Gelephu Mindfulness City

Gelephu Mindfulness City Project Info:

Name: Gelephu Mindfulness City
Architects: Bjarke Ingels Group | @bjarkeingels
Collaborators: Arup | @arupgroupCistri
Area: more than 1000 km2
location: Gelephu, The Kingdom of Bhutan
Client: The Kingdom of Bhutan
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
Visualizations: Brick Visual, Atchain, BIG
Animation: Squint/Opera & Brick Visual

All images and video in this article are by Brick Visual, Atchain, BIG. 



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