Mae Tao Clinic

Background and process

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 project together with him.

As most of the population along the border, the majority of Gyaw Gyaw has no papers and cannot legally travel out of our village. It is only 100 km up the river to Mae Sot from our village, 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:

1 118 800 THB

Project manager/architect: Albert Company Olmo and Line Ramstad

Total Temporary Dormitory:

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

The classrooms 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.

Natural airflow and sun protection were important factors in the placement of the building. We also sought to create a flexible indoor/outdoor space in a good human scale that would work in all seasons.

The building consist of 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.

The building is 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.

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.

MTC Training center: New Classrooms
25 weeks/895 040 THB

MTC Training center: Office
6 weeks/223 760 THB

CDC School: Temporary Dormitory
2 weeks/68 000 THB


MTC Training center: New Classrooms.


MTC Training center: New Classrooms. South facing facade.


MTC Training center: New Classrooms. West facing facade.


MTC Training center: New Classrooms. Walkway/entrance area between the classrooms.


MTC Training center: New Classrooms. Interior.


Classrooms at sunset.


MTC Training center: New Classrooms. South facing facade at night. The water in front is the adobe pit, so all wall materials are made on site.


MTC Training center: Office.


MTC Training center: Office. Detail.


MTC Training center: Office. Interior.


CDC School: Temporary Dormitory. Design from Albert Company Olmo/Agora Architects. Labor and consultants by Gyaw Gyaw.

Other projects