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  • Aerial view of Basid village in Tajikistan.
    Courtesy of the MIT/AKAH Tajikistan Workshop
“Moving Together”: AKAH, MIT and KVA MATx work on voluntary relocation planning in Tajikistan

Relocation planning and design case study on exhibit at La Biennale di Venezia

Bartang Valley, Tajikistan, 22 May 2021 – To develop solutions to help vulnerable and disaster-affected communities plan for a better future, the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the design firm KVA MATx collaborated on a case study on voluntary relocation. AKAH, MIT’s Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture (AKPIA), the MIT Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism (LCAU) and KVA MATx have been invited to exhibit the project at Giardini, Central Pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia curated by Hashim Sarkis.

Disasters caused by the changing climate are destroying the homes, villages and livelihoods of millions of people leaving them with nowhere safe to go. Too often these families face long-term displacement, continued vulnerability or migration. While the priority after a disaster is to rebuild and return home, sometimes it is not safe to go back to the same site or even the entire village.  Yet giving up ancestral lands and relocating an entire community is complicated with risks of its own that need to be carefully studied and addressed.

The AKAH, MIT and KVA MATx partnership set out to look at how planning expertise and community engagement can overcome these challenges. The partners looked at Basid village, located in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast of Tajikistan, to develop a model for voluntary relocation planning.  The mountain village faces an extraordinary array of natural hazards, including rockfall, mudflow, flooding, avalanche and earthquake. Located under Lake Sarez, an unstable glacial lake, the village was struck by massive mudflows in 2010, which wiped away many homes and farms and an earthquake in 2015 that caused devasting damage.  Fortunately, there is a nearby safe place (the Khabust) where the people of Basid can and want to move.  They asked AKAH to help them plan this resettlement.

Onno Ruhl, General Manager of the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, stated: “Over 90 percent of Tajikistan is mountainous and about half of the country’s territory is at 3,000 metres or higher and exposed to multiple natural hazards. As natural disasters become more frequent and severe due to climate change, solutions to help communities rebuild and, when necessary, relocate are essential. The AKAH Habitat Planning Framework gives agency to displaced people to plan for a safer and better future.”

The Basid case study combines the community’s own skills and knowledge with data-driven analysis and best practices in urban planning and design from AKAH, MIT and KVA MATx, to develop a model for participatory relocation planning. It brings world-class planning to a remote mountain village.

Building on AKAH’s Habitat Planning Framework and Hazard & Vulnerability Risk Assessments, the AKAH, MIT and KVA MATx team, together with the community, identified four main design challenges: improving access; providing a water supply; enriching the land through soil and vegetation conservation; and creating safe village layout options.

James Wescoat Jr., Aga Khan Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture and Geography at MIT, said: “The Basid Case Study shows the importance of close linkages between research, planning and design. Basid faces myriad challenges, from frequent rockfall to episodic flooding and uncertainties associated with the natural dam upstream at Lake Sarez. So, it is important to create a voluntary relocation case study that encompasses as many of the determinants, design components and options as possible for a secure life on the plateau and with continuing productive uses of the floodplain.” A complex and multi-hazard challenge calls for a multi-sectoral yet streamlined approach to habitat planning that unites data-driven decision-making and the community’s vision and voice.

The team used AKAH’s Habitat Assessment approach – which included drone photography and GIS data and analysis to determine safe sites, map hazards and assess other environmental and geo-spatial data important for planning including solar exposure, topography, water, vegetation, soil analysis, etc.  Community participation is integral to AKAH’s habitat planning process and the team engaged with residents and community leaders to identify needs and promising programming and engineering concepts.  They conducted collective design sessions in the field, which MIT and KVA MATx further developed into a set of design options and recommendations for a phased relocation. 

The case study proposes a range of design options that can be implemented incrementally starting with immediate emergency measures and moving through to complete long-term relocation.  Measures include transplanting fertile river soil up to the new village site; designing homes and farms for the best orientation relative to sun, wind and water exposure; sustainable planting strategies; tree plantation to stabilise slopes and terraced fields as well as other disaster risk reduction strategies including seismically resistant construction or even a Community Drone Port to transport medicine and food in times of emergency.

The case study is being featured at La Biennale di Venezia (the Venice Biennale) this year.  This year, La Biennale looks at the question of “How will we live together?”  focusing on the new challenges that climate change brings to architecture, on the role of public space in the recent urban uprisings, on the new techniques of reconstruction and the changing forms of collective building. The Basid relocation study looks at how communities can move together peacefully, justly and productively with self-governance, recognising that with the increase in climate induced disasters “living together” will often mean “moving together”.

For more information:

Trushna Torche

Please visit “Moving Together” and “AKAH Habitat Planning”