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 has led to massive rural migration to the capital city of Ulaanbataar. This has resulted in the doubling of the population over the past 25 years and the expansion of the city’s territory to over 30 times its original size from 130km2 to 4700 km2.
Predicted high GDP growth rates 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 nomads settle on any available land, occupying residual inner areas, slopes and the periphery of the city. When migrants arrive they simply 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. Coal smog hovers throughout the city during the winter as ger residents burn fuel to stay warm. This population has no prior experience living collectively - there is no word for “community” in Mongolian.
Unlike other informal settlements in developing countries, these districts are not illegal because each Mongolian national, has the right to land ownership and a claim on 700sqm of land. However, they are still stigmatized as problem areas - effectively slums - that are seen as a hindrance to Ulaanbaatar’s evolution into a “modern” capital.
This is a battle between nomadic and sedentary life; between the rural and the urban. Within the urgent constraints of water, finance, sewerage, waste management, our proposal is to develop design prototypes allowing for the incremental evolution of the ger rather than its current eradication.
The battle for Mongolia’s urban future reveals a conflict we all face. It is both an internal and external front. The question is not only about how best to urbanize, but should we?
The potential future of the site and our prototype is presented, including new infrastructure and a new housing prototype. These prototypes demonstrate a strategy for gradual evolution from a primarily nomadic (rural) situation into an urban settlement.
The intention is to highlight that the design is a strategy for the evolution of the ger, to give it validity and relevance in the process of urbanisation. This provides Ulaanbaatar with a specific mechanism for urbanisation that resides in its nomadic culture, rather than a generic and imported form.