Ger Innovation challenge project

In partnership with UNICEF Mongolia and UNICEF Global Office of Innovation

Source: UNICEF Mongolia 2018

Source: UNICEF Mongolia 2018


Designing the 21st century ger for the well-being of Ulaanbaatar


Ulaanbaatar – home to half of Mongolia’s three million population - is one of the most polluted capitals in the world. Daily average of PM2.5 pollution levels are almost 30 times higher the level WHO recommends as safe.

The greatest contributor to air pollution is the use of raw coal for heating and cooking in gers (informal settlements) during the cold season. Ger dwellers are 57 per cent of the households in Ulaanbaatar. Overall, almost half of the population of Mongolia still lives in gers.

The ger remains central to Mongolian identity and culture, a centuries-proven structure that is cool in summer and relatively warm in winter, when temperatures can drop to -40C. However, in winter, ger dwellers must burn raw coal, rubber and even plastics to heat the gers, leading to extreme levels of outdoor air pollution levels in the city.

Unless concrete efforts are made to address this situation, exposures will increase in the coming years with significant health consequences for the city’s population, especially for children. Children are the most vulnerable to adverse health effects of air pollution from the day they are conceived.

In Mongolia, a 3.5-fold increase in fetal deaths have been documented between winter and summer. Air pollution is also linked with diseases that can be highly damaging for children, such as bronchitis and asthma, causing children to miss school and other important learning and development opportunities.

In last 10 years, incidences of respiratory diseases in Ulaanbaatar alarmingly increased including a 2.7-fold increase in respiratory infections per 10,000 population. Children living in a highly polluted district of central Ulaanbaatar were found to have 40% lower lung function than children living in a rural area.


To address the heat loss in gers which leads to energy inefficiency, increased use of fuel and air pollution, GerHub jointly with UNICEF Mongolia and UNICEF Innovation took a human centered design approach to solve this pressing challenge facing the residents of Ulaanbaatar. Together with our international partners including Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, outdoor gear manufacturers Arc’Teryx and The North Face, architecture firm KieranTimberlake, we are seeking to improve the design of ger parts (door, floor and toono). Designs that can be open-source, sustainable, affordable, and can be locally produced and adopted by Mongolian communities. The approach is technologically innovative and culturally relevant: as we are not seeking solutions that require importation or that may have unintended negative consequences on local markets.

Through this initiative, we hope to:

  • Propose design solutions and improved building practices based on iterative prototyping and evaluation;

  • Incorporate feedback from ger households in our designs;

  • Understand and base design decisions on the ger’s thermal behaviour.

Through these three areas of action, we will empower ger dwellers with the ability to make immediate, incremental changes that decrease their reliance on dirty fuels, improve indoor air pollution in gers, and contribute to overall community health in the ger district. At scale, we could have direct impact on improving air quality and public health for children, as well as the quality of urban services and corresponding educational, health, and economic opportunities.

OUR project - in PICTURES

Through a collaborative, cross-continental team effort, all GIC project partners contributed invaluable expertise in developing innovative prototypes and comprehensive data collection. 

1. Addressing the thermal weaknesses of the ger through

innovative interventions

The toono or oculus, lets in light into the ger and allows the chimney to pass through.

The toono or oculus, lets in light into the ger and allows the chimney to pass through.

Toono Insulation

Team Toono's HubCap toono insulation went through several iterations throughout the span of the GIC project. The team incorporated community and user feedback in improving the designs since the very first HubCap prototype. Currently, two iterations of our third prototype are planned to be tested on baseline and intervention gers.


Door Insulation

Team Door designed and constructed two different door insulations, both will be tested on the baseline and intervention gers. We are also in the process of designing an innovative vestibule that takes inspiration from the ger and its traditions. The vestibule is intended to improve the thermal efficiency of the ger and provide extra storage space for the ger families. 

An ajar door with a ger and a weather station in the background.

An ajar door with a ger and a weather station in the background.

One of the floor prototypes in our unoccupied test ger site.

One of the floor prototypes in our unoccupied test ger site.

insulated Floor

Team Floor developed three distinct floor prototypes, each with a unique thermal behavior, with the intent to minimize heat loss in the ger through the floor. Using the three drawings, the GerHub team and our contractor completed the construction of the prototypes at our test ger site in late October, 2018.


2.Gathering comprehensive data on baseline and intervention



Team Diagnostics is gathering comprehensive data on occupied and unoccupied gers to assess the thermal performance and comfort levels of the ger. The team has developed thermal audit procedures in both occupied and unoccupied intervention and baseline gers. Our partners came to Mongolia in early November to install sensors in the test gers. and will be collecting and analyzing temperature and air quality data of test gers throughout winter 2018 – 2019. 

Taking an infrared image of a chimney.

Taking an infrared image of a chimney.



Our Partners