Gagarin Valley

A base for sustainable agriculture and ecotourism: MVRDV launches vision for self-sufficient valley in Armenia.

On Tuesday, January 11th, in the presence of Armenian government officials, MVRDV has unveiled its vision for the Gagarin Valley. MVRDV was commissioned by the Armenian non-profit organisation DAR Foundation for Regional Development and Competitiveness to develop a vision that will make the 34,000-hectare area more sustainable and ecologically diverse. In the Gagarin Valley, 10,000 plant species will soon flourish on as many plots. With the help of innovative facilities and future- proof housing that will add 12,000 new housing units, the valley will become an ideal base for sustainable agriculture and ecotourism and welcome a new generation of residents.

Armenia’s Gagarin Valley – named after cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin – is located near Lake Sevan, the largest lake in the Caucasus and only 50 kilometres from the capital Yerevan. Surrounded by mountains, roughly 11,000 inhabitants live in several villages spread throughout the valley. The landscape consists of a patchwork of different pieces of land, of which the local community owns about one third.

Commissioned by the DAR Foundation for Regional Development and Competitiveness, MVRDV designed a vision for the area in which the potential of the valley is optimised and various facilities are added. The ambition, which will be realised in consultation with local parties, is to turn the valley into a versatile and future-proof landscape that is suitable for sustainable agriculture on various scales. Gagarin Valley must become a more attractive place to live in, as well as an area for ecotourism and recreation, serving as a destination for people to walk, hike, cycle, and ride horses.

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The first step towards this self-sustaining valley is to embrace the history of the area: the mosaic of 10,000 existing plots will be preserved and reinforced, and the water system in this dry region will be improved by lining the boundaries between them with canals, public paths, and greenery. This forms the base of the valley masterplan, reducing evaporation while enhancing water buffers and biodiversity. On each plot, different species will be planted. This will not only make the landscape visually more attractive, but will also stimulate economic diversity.

In the valley, existing roads will continue to form the starting point for connecting all the villages. Additional walking and cycling paths are created within existing structures. Water management will be improved tremendously: the restoration and enlargement of the route of the Hrazdan River, in combination with the new canal system, is an important part of the vision, and water reservoirs in the mountains and other water sources can be used to irrigate farmland.

“The area is named after Yuri Gagarin, who was the first human to orbit the earth; he saw the planet’s vulnerability, a house in need of extra care, as many other astronauts have since stressed. I share that concern: stimulating biodiversity, improving water management and the ecosystem is of great importance for the future of the Gagarin Valley and the world,” says MVRDV founding partner Winy Maas. “The valley can be seen as a series of test fields for the 10,000 species that will soon flourish there, an enrichment that will give the area the appearance of a garden of Eden.”

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The Gagarin Valley has several villages, some featuring buildings from Soviet times. These will be transformed into the new buildings to waste as little building materials as possible. Traditional Armenian farmhouses will form the inspiration for the newly built homes, to which green, vegetated roofs will be added. This new future and the innovative, sustainable housing will make the valley attractive for different target groups and make the area attractive again for young Armenians.

The patchwork of 10,000 different gardens will contain various facilities that will make a stay in the valley even more attractive. The vision proposes a market hall, a commercial centre, a centre for the arts, and a sunken stadium for 4,500 visitors. The heart of the valley will be formed by an educational agricultural centre, around which the highest density can be found, with houses stacked to form vertical villages.

“We designed a sphere that acts as mini-planet, where the classrooms surround a spherical void and where all the species of the valley and beyond are shown and monitored”, adds Winy Maas. “The sphere will be surrounded by a central park that contains all the species – a scientific arboretum, reflected in the mirroring sphere. Gagarin would have loved it, I think.”
MVRDV’s vision fits in well with Armenia’s ambition: the government wants to provide financial support for sustainable agriculture and has ambitions to revive tourism to the area. By 2026, the country aims to attract some 2.5 million tourists a year, to which the transformed Gagarin Valley will make a significant contribution.

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