In a remote village along the Thailand-Myanmar border, a small non-governmental organization is utilizing sustainable architecture to better local marginalized communities.
Since 2009, Gyaw Gyaw has completed more than 70 buildings and community projects of different scale, with and for the local ethnic Karen communities who have been immersed in conflict since 1949.
It was initiated by Line Ramstad, a Norwegian, who arrived in the rural village of Noh Bo on a temporary architect project in 2008. Upon completion and after having become fast friends with the local workers, they together founded Gyaw Gyaw which means slowly (step by step) in the local language.
By following the guiding principle of “do no harm” and working only within existing social structures, Gyaw Gyaw has been able to introduce sustainable architecture as a tool for development in an environmental, local economical and culturally accepted manner.
All projects are locally initiated and carefully chosen based on thorough research over a longer period of time. Is this a project the village/school need, or do they just want it? Are they willing to participate in the process and collaborate closely with Gyaw Gyaw and other stakeholders in their village? What about the future?
Gyaw Gyaw’s architecture and open style of construction mimics local traditional buildings by utilizing passive air flows to accommodate the heavy humidity of rainy season and the high temperatures. Their buildings are adjusted to the landscape, designed for natural daylight, but limiting direct sunlight, and planned to function with the local cultural lifestyles in mind.
With the introduction of adobe as a material and the extensive use of locally sourced materials such as timber and bamboo, they show examples of sustainable development that is good for the environment and reduces the dependence on imported products as well as stimulate the local economy by providing jobs.
While the results of their work contribute to the local infrastructure, the process in which they achieve this is just as important. Empowering staff and local workers alike to be involved in multiple steps of the project process builds trust among community members and creates local ownership of the completed buildings. With Gyaw Gyaw`s flat structure as an example, democracy and democratic processes are actively demonstrated.
By presenting an alternative to modernized development which utilizes concrete, metal, and glass but requires electricity, non-sustainable materials, and imported resources to function, Gyaw Gyaw provides not only different methods and materials for development, but also a different inclusive process that empowers local communities.