Incremental Urbanism: Ulaanbaatar’s Ger Settlements

Department: Architecture
Designer: Joshua Bolchover

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For thousands of years, Mongolians have been living in gers – portable structures made of timber, felt and canvas. They are highly evolved designed objects, easy to disassemble, move and reassemble in a matter of hours without any tools or fixings. It is a perfect dwelling for the nomads. Yet, when this specific type of dwelling forms the basic unit of inhabitation for Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar, it has led to unsustainable urban development, resulting in sprawling districts that lack basic urban infrastructure of water and sewage that contribute to toxic levels of air pollution in the city.

This project documents the process of transformation and spatial characteristics of selected ger districts describing how settlements densify by subdivision without improvements to infrastructure. It highlights the difficulties in implementing ger district development projects and positions the ger districts as a unique case study of an informal settlement because the majority of ger district inhabitants are land owners. Additionally, the project proposes an alternative mechanism for ger district development in the form of an incremental urban strategy. The target is to demonstrate how these districts can be incrementally developed by the residents themselves to include infrastructure, better housing, and community facilities, each with improved environmental performance to improve air quality and reduce reliance on coal. This strategic framework for development includes:

a design for an affordable housing prototype – the Ger Plug-In – as an adaptation of a traditional ger with embedded infrastructure and improved energy efficiency;

a design for a waste collection and recycling building to improve solid waste collection within the districts

scenario plans to increase density for three different ger district typologies: the central; mid and fringe areas

an action plan for incremental development that conceptualizes how Green Climate Funds can be accessed to support low interest rate mortgages to initiate development

The project was selected for exhibition at the Venice Biennale 2016 by chief curator Alejandro Aravena, and subsequent site specific installations were designed for exhibitions in London at the Design Museum and in Sydney at the Museum for Applied Arts and Sciences. The work has been published in international journals such as Architectural Design, disseminated in a comprehensive design report and presented at international lectures.

Enlarge Photo: Incremental Urbanism: Ulaanbaatar’s Ger Settlements 1