Pamir Village

Photos by MIT/AKAH Workshop.

Photos by MIT/AKAH Workshop.

Photos by MIT/AKAH Workshop.


In mountain regions that hold 12% of the world’s population, rural villages face devastating  natural hazards: Earthquake, Rockfall, Landslide, Mudflow, Flooding. With climate change, the narrow floodplain of the Bartang River in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan has become a precarious place to live. For one Bartang community, the challenges of voluntary resettlement - self-governance, cultural, environmental and economic - are compounded by the difficulties of bringing people and water up to the Khabust, a high plateau ~300 meters above the existing village.

Collaborative Team

This project is a unique collaborative partnership between the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, the professional design firm KVA MATx, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat's (AKAH) The agency works with communities to help them prepare for and respond to natural disasters and the effects of climate change. AKAH helps communities prepare for the worst; provides immediate relief after disaster strikes; and helps build back better - and greener - while planning for a better future. Operating in Tajikistan since 1992, the Network draws on a strong base of experience in working with mountain societies.

KVA MATx An interdisciplinary practice that explores new relationships between architecture, digital technology, and emerging public needs.

The Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism A research center committed to fostering a rigorous design culture for the large scale; by focusing our disciplinary conversations about architecture, urban planning, landscape architecture, and systems thinking, not about the problems of yesterday, but of tomorrow. LCAU’s research on Equitable Resilience includes a focus on Voluntary Planned Relocation in hazardous environments.

The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT (AKPIA @MIT) A graduate academic program dedicated to the study of architecture, urbanism, architectural history, landscape, and conservation in the Islamic World. 

Future Visions
AKAH Video

Village Community Members:

Photos by MIT-KVA MATx Team Members.

The team interviewed a wide range of community members, including about 20% of all households, and conducted village “town halls” with male and female groups.  Interviews were also conducted with village leaders such as the rais, khalifa, women’s leader, teachers, and shop keepers; builders (carpenters and masons); local engineers, and local micro-hydro plant operators. In addition to identifying current living conditions and needs, these interviews identified promising programming and engineering concepts, such as an early education program and use of an inverted siphon water supply. In the spirit of working with government, the team had meetings and presentations with officials and departments. 

Place-based Research:

Photos by MIT and KVA MATx Team Members.
Aerial Imagery by AKAH GIS-drone Team.

Rugged mountain-building processes of the Pamir region have produced a spectacular landscape and at the same time difficult terrain for habitation. Place-based research was undertaken at four levels: 1) architectural surveys of the distinctive Pamiri chid house type; 2) mapping existing village settlement patterns and multiple hazards in the floodplain environment; 3) GIS analysis and field transects of Khabust plateau relocation areas; and 4) analysis of village settlement geography along the Bartang River Valley. The AKAH team provided high resolution Aerial Imagery that included a detailed digital elevation model. The MIT-KVA team analyzed these images to produce maps of topography, slopes, sunlight, hydrology, vegetation, and site potential. The full team carried out field research on ground-truthing and transects.

1) Access

2) Water

3) Land Enrichment

4) Safe Place

Habitat Planning and Design Challenges:

Multi-Hazards Planning Framework:

In the context of exposure and vulnerability to multiple-hazards, the project identified four main design challenges for achieving the Basid community relocation aims: 1) Improving Access; 2) Providing Water Supply; 3) Enriching the Land through Soil and Vegetation conservation; and 4) Creating Safe Village layout options and an initial multi-purpose community center. These photos of existing conditions represent both the challenges and opportunities for adaptive relocation design on the Khabust plateau.

Habitat Planning and Design Process:

Diagram by Kira Intrator, AKAH.

The approach to Voluntary Planned Relocation Design taken here follows and builds upon the AKAH Habitat Planning Framework. AKAH completed pre-planning and vision steps (1-5) prior to the design process. The AKAH-KVA MATx-MIT team undertook further studies of steps 4-5, and detailed design studies (6) in collaboration with stakeholders. Key criteria for design alternatives were that they be: 1) Strategic - readily implemented low risk options for early consideration; 2) Flexible -allowing for multiple alternate sequences of actions; 3) Scalable - beginning small with vulnerable groups and expanding to cover the full village and even multiple villages; 4) Phased - over time as experience, evidence, and resources increase; 5) Networked - drawing upon experience, expertise, and needs in local and regional settlements; and 6) Replicable - adaptable in other villages and valleys.

A Safe Place:

Design and Renderings by KVA MATx Team.
Relocation Gradient Diagram from AKAH-KVA MATx-MIT Workshop Report.

Future visions of a "Safe Place" (Khabust) were elicited from and developed with the community. Community members stressed their shared values of Family Connections, Garden Culture, Hazards Reduction, and appeal of the Khabust Plateau. Design alternatives addressed the four major relocation challenges of improving Access, Water Supply, Land Enrichment, and a Multi-Purpose Community Center. A Relocation Gradient was developed to show how design alternatives could be combined to move from Critical (short-term emergency relocation) to Partial (medium-term and selective) to Full Relocation (long-term resettlement of most but not all functions). These steps culminated in the 2021 Architecture Biennale Exhibit shown here.

Applying AKAH’s Habitat Planning Process:

Basid Village, Tajikistan-MIT/KVA Planning Studio.
Video by Kira Intrator, AKAH.

This project is a unique collaborative partnership between the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, the professional design firm KVA MATx, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Principal Sheila Kennedy, FAIA, MIT Professor of Architecture.
Senior Associate Ben Widger, AIA.
Design Research Team Xio Alvarez, Karaghen Hudson, Will Qian, Patrick Weber.

MIT Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism

Executive Director Prudence Robinson.
Research Fellows Alessandra Fabbri, Elizabeth Yarina.

MIT Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture

Faculty James Wescoat Jr., Aga Khan Professor of Landscape Architecture and Geography.
Workshop Participants Charlotte D'Acierno, Melika Konjicanin, Clarence Yi Hsien Lee, Joude El-Mabsout, Jitske Swagemakers, Jaehun Woo.
Teaching Assistants Dorothy Tang, Lily Bui.

The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH)

General Manager Onno Ruhl
CEO AKAH Tajikistan Hadi Husani
Habitat Planning Lead, Head Office Kira Intrator
Operational Research & Technical Department, Head, Tajikistan Ruslan Bobov
SDI Supervisor Tohir Sabzaliev
Drone Operator Amiraidar Ghulomaidarov

With Special Thanks for AKAH field team support:

Translator Zohir Asanshoev
Translator Toji Olimnazarova
Translator Shams Sharif
Pasture Management Khanjarov Andam
Soil Management Oliftaev Gulmirzo
Agroeconomist Jumaev Olimjon
Forest Management Suraj Shahnazarbekov
Geobotanist Sino Yusupov
SART Farukhruz Gulobov
Engineer Oshurmamadov Oshurmamad
Admin Amza Shekhov
Admin Intern Mavzuna Shobekova
Cook Abdurahmonov Sharikon
Cook Assistant Tutishoev Akobir
Driver Oraz Dodikhudoev
Driver Suri Navruzbekov
Driver Maqsad Pallaev
Driver Muyasar Maqbulshoev

This project was made possible with generous funding from the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, KVA MATx, the MIT Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, and the MIT Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism.