SIGUS: Special Interest Group in Urban Settlement


A collaboration of SIGUS, School of Architecture and Planning, MIT; Faculty of Architecture, National University of Laos; and CENDEP, Oxford Brookes University, England.

In January 2004, SIGUS undertook a 2-week workshop in Vientiane, Laos, partnering with students from the National University of Laos and from Oxford Brookes University, England. The workshop targeted five low-income villages in the city, where student teams worked with the communities in defining the key concerns and brainstorming improvement projects and strategies.

MIT students continued in Laos after the 2-week workshop on individual research interests, ranging from further research in their village to broader policy studies. The individual research was further developed and debated at MIT during the spring semester, and finalized at the end of the term.

Funding for the workshop was from several sources: architecture students were subsidized airfare by the Department of Architecture; planning students were subsidized airfare by the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Additional funding was from the MIT Service Learning Program, the Caminos Endowment, and the Helena Rubinstein Foundation.


The Five Low-Income Villages in Vientiane and Recommended Initiatives

The development of initiatives for the improvement of the five settlements surveyed was a group defined effort. Participants from diverse backgrounds (architecture, planning, engineering, real estate; from MIT, Oxford, Laos, and Thailand) were organized into teams, together with a partner community.

1 | The 'Weavers'

Nongbouathong Tai Village

• Basic beautification projects: pond trash cleanup, signage, cafe and display area.
• Marketing brochure/posters for tourists.
• Recommendations for promoting Lao handicrafts

See: Nongbouathong Tai Village Report

2 | The Island 'Paradise'

Harddonechan Island - That Khao Village

• Agricultural cooperative
• Small business projects
• Finding a historic partner
• Build awareness the island situation

See: That Khao Village Report

3 | The 'Road-Commons' Village

Nong Duang Thong Village

• Document which provides background information to pass on to NGOs and other funders

See: Non Duang Thong Village Report

4 | The New Market

Ban Dong Pa Lanh Tha

• Participatory tool for sellers to negotiate layout
• Redesign of road and drainage

See: Ban Dong Pa Lanh Tha Report

5 | Resettlement: From Moderation to Dislocation

Gnapha Village

• New relocation process based on continuous collaborative effort between government, communities, and NGOs.

See: Gnapha Village Report




The reports are individual efforts. The research topics were selected and developed according to the participant's interest.

Migration and Informal Networks as Effective and Equitable Strategies of Poverty Reduction

by Erin Camarena

This paper traces the history of an informal settlement in Vientiane, tracing the trends and motivations of migration, as well as exploring the characteristics, potentials and limitations of the informal networks. See: report


Looking Beyond 'Celebrating' Heritage: Baalbeck and Luang Prabang: A Story of Two World Heritage Sites

by Hiba Bou Akar

A discussion of the rules and restrictions resulting from World Heritage status, their impacts on the communities and suggestions for improvement. Baalbeck in Lebanon and Luang Prabang in northern Laos are compared, with both exhibiting similar characteristics. See: report


Foreign Investment in the Lao Real Estate Market: A Case Study

by Whitney Foutz

Problems and benefits of foreign investment using the example of a 14-story hotel and conference center now under construction in Vientiane. The paper questions whether the benefits are worth the loss of an environmentally sensitive island and the displacement of hundreds of families. See: report


Involuntary Resettlement in Lao PDR

by Justin Pauly

Overview of the flawed resettlement policies when compared to field experience and accepted World Bank policies. Includes reflections on obstacles to more equitable policies and on the current approach in the Nam Theun-2 Dam being planned. See: report


Short Stories and Long Skirts: Finding Culture in Laos

by Kim Alleyne

Increasing tourism with its foreign influences is bringing noticeable change. This paper grapples with the underlying questions of what is culture and tradition and how they are expressed through story-telling, drawings and photos and traditional dress. The paper highlights the importance of local context to understanding these expressions. See: report


Designing Awareness: Putting Harddonechan Island on the Map

by Jeremy M. Gates

This paper explores the marketing of the island as an asset to the city in showing the potential for a future different from the current plan. Examples include adaptive reuse of existing historic structures, brochures and posters in an awareness campaign, and selected products to establish enterprises with value to both the island and the city. See: report


The Domestic Edge in Vientiane, Lao PDR

by Philippe Saad

An exploration of the transition between rural and urban, forcusing on edge conditions with regard to social status, income and new urban laws. The edge is compared between traditional and 'modern', and concludes by showing how urban laws and modern construction have been modified/adapted to traditional social structures. See: report


Paving Roads in Laos - an Alternative: Porous Pavements and its Social Impacts on Rural Communities

by Manshi Low

An indepth review of a economic, durable all-weather paving alternative in developing the road transport network of Laos. Findings include questions on the basic feasibilily from technical as well as social concerns. See: report


Notes on the Anonymous Architecture of Laos in 2004: The Rural Architecture of Northwestern Laos, The Architecture of the Temple and That of the City of Vientiane

by Gabriel Arboleda

An overview of the logic of traditional rural building compared to the urban temple, contrasting the abandonment in the 'real world' of the rural vernacular with the formal continuity of the temple. See: report


The Simple Life of Mr. and Mrs. Fish - OR - Laos (be) Dam(ned)

A Parable of Our Time: The Nam Theun II Dam Project in Laos is likely to get World Bank risk guarantee approval soon. "Construction of dam will enhance livelihood options" they say, but it will likely alter fish migration pattern, and most importantly increase temperature in the river. Many fish are cold loving creatures and will not be happy, and is likely to destroy a portion of riparian buffer essential for a proper functioning of rivers. See: report