Happy city

Bjarke Ingels Group designs a ‘Mindfulness City’ for the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), in collaboration with engineering firm Arup and development consultancy firm Cistri, has designed the world’s first ‘Mindfulness City’ in Bhutan – a futuristic metropolis spanning 250 000 acres that will include an international airport, railway station, hydroelectric dam, healthcare centre, and multiple public spaces. 

The world’s first carbon-negative country, Bhutan is a landlocked Buddhist kingdom in the eastern Himalayas with a population of nearly 800 000. The nation pioneered the ‘Gross National Happiness Index’ which is used to measure the happiness and wellbeing of Bhutan's population and includes markers such as psychological wellbeing, education, health, community vitality and living standards.

The Royal Office of Bhutan commissioned BIG, Arup, and Cistri to develop a plan for a Mindfulness City in Gelephu in southern Bhutan, near the Indian border. Designed to become an economic hub for South Asia without compromising on the development of personal wellbeing for the Bhutanese people, the future Gelephu Special Administration Region is informed by the nine tenets of the Gross National Happiness Index.

Inspired by the flow of 35 rivers and streams across the area, the city’s design features ribbonlike neighbourhoods resembling paddy fields, forming terraces cascading from hills to valleys. Densities gradually increase from rural highlands to urban lowlands, fostering a seamless transition between living environments. 

‘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,’ comments Bjarke Ingels, founder and Creative Director of BIG. ‘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.’

To protect the city against flooding in the monsoon season, paddy fields will be established 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. 

The Mindfulness City will include a series of ‘inhabitable bridges’ which are tailored to the nine Gross National Happiness domains, doubling as transportation infrastructure and civic and cultural facilities. One of the bridges, a hydroelectric dam, will generate electricity for the city. 

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