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Urbanism, infrastructure, community



Studio research undertaken at the University of Hong Kong.

Mongolia is facing a critical moment in its urban evolution. The economic reforms following Soviet withdrawal in 1990 coupled with the discovery of vast reserves of coal, gold, and copper led to massive rural migration to the capital city: Ulaanbataar. Predicted GDP growth rates of 17% in 2011 and the promise of development projects lead nomadic herdsman to sell their livestock and move to the city in search of a better life. The population of the city doubled since 1989 and city’s territory expanded from 130km2 to 4700 km2. The extremely cold winter (zud) in 2010 that killed many livestock sealed the fate of many, leaving them little choice other than to move to the city.

The nomads settle on any available land, occupying residual inner areas, slopes and the periphery of the city. When migrants arrive they erect a traditional felt tent - a ger - and surround the plot with a wooden fence. The extent and rapidity of their growth has meant that the provision of the most basic services of urban life has not been viable: water is fetched from kiosks; pit latrines are dug on site; and garbage goes uncollected.

Pollution hovers throughout the city during the winter as ger residents burn fuel to stay warm. As this population has no prior experience living amongst others - there is no word for “community” in Mongolian - or in situ, in one home on a single plot of land, other problems ensue such as solid waste disposal and a consideration of shared public space.

Unlike other informal settlements in developing countries, these districts are not illegal as each new migrant, as a Mongolian national, has the right to land ownership. However, they are still stigmatised as problem areas - effectively slums - that are seen as a hindrance to Ulaanbaatar’s evolution into a “modern” capital.

This studio research seeks to understand the spatial characteristics of this unique rural-urban fringe as a unique example of informal settlements. Through the research, the aim is to develop innovative scenarios- statements of intent - that can contribute to the integration of the Ger districts into a viable urban construct.


Joshua Bolchover, Ben Hayes

001 Drone image of Chingeltei Ger district on the fringes North of Ulaanbaatar

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