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Incremental Urbanism: Designing a Resilient Urban Strategy for the Ger Districts of Ulaanbaatar
1  The University of Hong Kong


For thousands of years, Mongolians have been living in gers – portable structures made of timber, felt and canvas. Throughout the history of Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar, the ger has remained the predominant dwelling for new migrants, a resilient typology indifferent to technological progress or to the radical political and economic shifts occurring after the 1990 democratic revolution.

Since 2002, land reforms have accelerated the migration of nomads to the city. The ease and speed of replication of the ger in numbers reaching hundreds of thousands has created sprawling districts lacking basic urban infrastructure. During extreme winter temperatures that reach -30°C, residents use coal to heat their homes leading to toxic levels of air pollution. Over 60% of the city’s population live in these districts. The urban risks associated with this form of settlement are becoming increasingly threatening, particularly with respect to sanitation, freshwater supply and air quality. Additionally, as the ger is designed for singularity rather than collective living, the notion of the civic, or forms of community are absent.

The paper demonstrates that the engineered resilience of the ger as a dwelling typology has led to unsustainable urban development. By analysing the process of transformation of ger districts, the objective is to propose a framework for incremental change that advocates a position for social-ecological resilience. The essay will investigate the disadvantages of current approaches to ger district redevelopment and will report on the impact of the construction of a series of architectural prototypes including an affordable housing unit, a community innovation hub and a waste collection facility that have been developed as part of the incremental plan. The strategy is a unique example of how urban resilience can be addressed through interventions that tackle urgent issues yet can allow for future adaptation and transformation.

Keywords: Informal settlements: Incremental urbanism; Ger districts; Slum upgrading