Mae Tao Clinic

New classrooms for Mae Tao Clinic Training Center was a collaborative project with the clinic itself and Spanish architect Albert Company-Olmo who was both working for the clinic, and leading the process together with Gyaw Gyaw 


Mae Tao Clinic (MTC) is founded by Karen Medical Dr. Cynthia Maung. She came to the border town of Mae Sot after fleeing Burma in the 8888 uprising and has since run the clinic in companionship with local medics and international volunteers. With support from international donors, the clinic is offering illegal migrants and refugees’ free medical treatment. They also educate new medics and run migrant schools for children from both side of the border.

Children’s Development Center, better known as CDC School, have an average of 1000 students a year. Since the majority of the students are illegal in Thailand, travel, even close distances, is not a matter of course. Approximately half of the students are therefor living in one of the many boarding houses the clinic is facilitating.

Normally MTC`s construction projects were supported from international organizations that payed local entrepreneurs to build as big as possible for the given amount of money. The results were too often neither functional nor long lasting. In 2010, Spanish Architect Albert Company Olmo came as a volunteer to MTC and convinced the clinic to emphasis on architecture and quality in their construction projects.

Gyaw Gyaw was asked to design and build the first adobe project together with Albert Company Olmo.

As most of the population along the border, the majority of Gyaw Gyaw has no papers and cannot legally travel. It is only 100 km up the river to Mae Sot from Noh Bo where we live, but we only went home twice and lived on site for a total of 8 months to design and construct the new classrooms and office for the clinic’s training center and construct the temporary dormitories for the clinics school, CDC. It was only possible thanks to the families left in Noh Bo.


Built and designed by Gyaw Gyaw and Albert Company Olmo from A.gor.a Architects/Mae Tao Clinic, 2012.

Total Training center:

31 weeks/1 118 800 THB

Project manager/architect: Albert Company Olmo and Line Ramstad

Total Temporary Dormitory:

2 weeks/68 000 THB

Project manager/architect: Albert Company Olmo

Gyaw Gyaw Team: Peter, Phillipa, Pah Me, See da Pah, Line, Ta Po Kwa, Ee Po Pah, Oo Klo, Ste Pha, Koe Taw, Eh Thoo, Eh K`Prue, Sunday, Hser Eh Thoo, Saw Dee.

Photo: Franc Pallarès López and Line Ramstad (process pictures).


When we were asked to work for Mae Tao Clinic (MTC), building their first adobe building together with Albert, we were thrilled! It was such a compliment for our previous work and a great honour. At the same time, in 2012, commuting to Mae Sot from Noh Bo was a risk that needed to be thoroughly discussed, both within the team and in their families. It is a 120 km/ 2 hour ride, but with limited papers and an unstable situation where even valid documentation was at a risk of being rejected, to get safely there and home again could not be taken for granted. We would live at the building site most of the year, but the risk of any travel had to be taken into consideration. Living on the building site also ment that the team members had to stay away from they families for a longer period of time. With big families and many of them having small children, this had to be agreed upon with the whole family before we finally decided to go for it! 

With a few exceptions that luckily also ended well, we made it safe and sound both there and back again all through 2012 and 2013. 

The property was rice paddies that would later be turned into the new MTC. On site was also a big hall, toilets and two dormitories. An unfinished building containing of a slab with a roof was also on site. This became our Mae Sot home. 

In retrospect, we started the project a bit too close to rainy season. The first weeks was used to dig trenches for the water to drain, both for now and for later. Rice paddies are made to hold water, it was therefor necessary to change the water storage to a land possible to build on. After some weeks struggling with wet mud, it finally dried up, the trenches could be completed and we could move on to the building itself.

Albert was the main designer and also in charge of the project from the clinics side. With contributions from Line and the rest of Gyaw Gyaw, the design was agreed upon on an early stage. How to implement it on the building site was a continuous and fruitful debate that also involved smaller and bigger adjustments on the design as the work went on. It was a great process that lead to a higher self esteem within the team, it created a great friendship with Albert, and the physical result was satisfactory. 

In the end of the Training Center project. CDC school – run by MTC – was in need of temporary dormitories. These were decided placed next to the Training Center and it was natural for us to continue the cooperation with Albert and also implement this project into our daily work on the MTC site. The result was functional, aesthetically pleasant and well adjusted local living style. Both Albert and we have further developed the design in each our direction. For our version of it, check out Kler Deh High School. Alberts projects are presented on Agora Architects webpage. 

MTC Trainingcenter: New Classrooms & Office

The classrooms and office are build on former rice paddies, creating extra challenges and requirements for drainage, both through the first phase concerning the classrooms, but also the total future transition from rice paddy to a complete training center taken into consideration.

For the placements of the buildings, natural airflow and sun protection were important factors. We also sought to create a flexible indoor/outdoor space in a good human scale that would work in all seasons.

The classrooms are built as two free standing loadbearing adobe constructions, resting on an iron reinforced foundation. The roof construction is second/third hand local timber beams with roof plates in a concrete material (non asbestos). Windows and doors are painted second/third hand timber, constructed to combine airflow and sun protection through the day.

The office/library building is placed as a buffer between the giant meeting hall already placed on site and the new training center, creating a more humane scale for better learning conditions.

It is also made as a load bearing adobe construction, resting on an iron reinforced foundation with a bamboo reinforced slab creating the inner floor. The roof construction is second/third hand local timber beams with roof plates in a concrete material (non asbestos). Windows and doors are painted second/third hand timber, constructed to combine airflow and sun protection.

CDC School: Temporary Dormitory

CDC School: Temporary Dormitories.

Design by Albert Company Olmo. First building in cooperation with Gyaw Gyaw. As built drawing by Peter (Gyaw Gyaw). Check out our Kler Deh Highschool project where we have used the same design again, but adjusted to make it long-lasting and based on feedbacks from the users. Alberts further development of the same design can be seen on Agora Architects website.

In a traditional Karen/Burmese home, the whole family sleep together on mats on the floor. Every morning the mats are rolled up, the floor swiped and the room used for multiple purposes before eventually turning into a bedroom again. The sleeping area is traditionally lifted one beam size above the veranda and kitchen. Even if there`s no walls dividing the spaces, this small elevation is privatizing the raised area in relation to the lower and more public veranda. It also has hygienic advantages with the dust from the sleeping area easily swept down to the more public veranda, but not vice versa.

These traditional matters are included in the dormitory to create safe and familiar sleeping environments that are easy to maintenance for the students.

The interior layout ensures an open and airy space that offers semi-privacy and includes storage space for up to 3 students. The materials used are locally available and well known for their users, which allows easy maintenance and results in low cost.

With exception of second/third hand planks, any use of timber along the border is subject to strict restrictions. With 2″6″ most likely somewhere in-between 1,5″ – 2,5″ and 5,5″ – 6,5″, the level of perception has to be flexible.The timber connections are therefor done with big iron screws allowing a variety of sizes to be included.


Other projects