Adelaide Uni alumni notes about Mongolia


Constructing a more sustainable Mongolia

Gregory Cowan

Master of Architecture (Research) 2002

Like all architecture, the buildings of Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar, tell a story. From the grand, Soviet-style buildings that reveal its recent socialist history, to the traditional tents of its nomadic culture, known as gers, they dot the city’s periphery.

“Architecture is a cultural enterprise as well as a business which, at best, helps people to feel a sense of belonging in a place,” says Gregory Cowan, an architect and teacher trainer currently based in Ulaanbaatar. “Mongolia has had a nomadic architecture tradition for centuries, and it is experiencing great changes with globalisation.”

Gregory is helping Mongolia to face these changes as a teacher trainer with the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), a development charity committed to fighting poverty and global disadvantage.

Working with the Construction Technology College, he trains architecture teachers who will, in turn, build education programs and educate a new generation of students in a rapidly-developing environment. This will not only help to address a skills shortage in construction design, but will also create construction jobs.

“I hope to improve the livelihoods of staff and students by helping them develop professionally. Mongolians will have a greater stake in construction design in the coming years of development and will aim to do this in a more sustainable way.”

Almost 40% of Mongolia’s population of 2.7 million people, most of whom are traditional nomadic herders, currently live below the poverty line. A lack of resources, literacy problems and poor teaching facilities are daily challenges.

“It’s challenging but rewarding to work in architectural education and training in the context of development in Mongolia,” he says. “Mongolians love their culture and customs, and many people I meet would like to contribute to their country’s development without having to go abroad in order to earn more money.”

While in Mongolia, Gregory aims to gain a deeper understanding of the country’s architecture and culture.

“Although I will be teaching, there will be a great deal that I can learn and carry with me in future. Mongolia is economically very poor, yet rates above both the UK and Australia in terms of human wellbeing relative to its ecological footprint.

Global Impact

The University of Adelaide alumni community stretches across the globe. From war-torn Africa to the centre of Mongolia, graduates are exploring new cultures, sharing their knowledge and helping to improve the lives of others. Lana Guineay profiles three Adelaide graduates who, armed with degrees and a passion for the world around them, are making an impact.


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