Compoundologies: Urban Playbook from the Land of a Million Rice Fields

Tommy Yang (2023)

This project nurtures a relationship drawing and building on cohorts of students, faculties, and community members started in 2017 to document the misalignment between urban policies/planning and lived experiences of four interconnected villages in Chiang Mai, TH.

Carnegie Mellon University and Chiang Mai University Students Public Workshop, Tommy Yang, 2023.


In August 2023, eleven undergraduate students from Carnegie Mellon University and Chiang Mai University in Chiang Mai conducted field work in a string of villages 8 kilometers east of the center of the expanding city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Chiang Mai province is the second-largest province by land area (20,107 square kilometers) and the fifth-largest province by population (approximately 1.7 million people) of Thailand. It is located in the northern part of the country, approximately 685 kilometers from Bangkok. It is situated on the Mae Ping River basin at the valley between the Mountain Ranges of Lampang and Mae Hong Son.

Situating Chiang Mai, TH., Tommy Yang, 2023.


Looking at how the city transformed within the enactment of the CMCP, our journey through Chiang Mai comprises two rivers and two cities – two metabolisms:

  • the modern sprawl along new highways from the historical center on the Mae Ping
  • the intricate network of rice farming villages within the Mae Kuang watershed


Two Metabolisms, Chiang Mai, TH. Tommy Yang 2023.


The workshop engaged rapid assessment and participatory action methodologies in order to propose a system of architectural interventions that could maintain the quality and beauty of rural life within an urbanizing landscape. In addition to addressing the interaction of design, social theory and practice, the workshop provided lessons in vernacular architecture, landscape ecology, including food and water systems, and participatory urban design. This  last visit established contact with the new headman of Tha Thum Village and the Mayor of San Klang.

Students in Ban Tha Thum with Headman Khun Kaen and the Municipal Officer. A storytelling session  around the Muang Fai and Inheritance of the Mae Kuang River. August 2023. Photo by Tommy Yang.

Our praxis in design included:

  • Participating in Storytelling Sessions led by Villagers
  • Do fieldwork – sketching, video, and audio recording with crafts-folk
  • Mapping – archiving and counter mapping with artifacts of the village
  • Using visual narratives to amplify local village stories

Phaw Kwai Story Walk, Photo by Tommy CheeMou Yang and Brian McGrath 2023.


During the Fall Semester of 2023, the stories we learned from the Village Teachers became values and guiding resolutions in which we used to develop design proposals to assist the work of the village elders in the ongoing design, planning and place-keeping activities. Using community empowered methods in fieldwork and ethnographies, our visit in August 2023 established a series of conversations about the status of the villages’ initiatives and an extension to the ongoing storybooks that have captured living memories, histories of their ancestral homes, and drawings.

Common Imaginaries Exhibition – Compoundologies, Photo by Tommy CheeMou Yang 2023.


We are hopeful for a new phase of collaborative work as national policy shifts to more local decisions, in light of the recently released Chiang Mai Comprehensive Plan which includes extending the urban land area and two new roads crossing the four villages. In December of 2023, the projects, maps, drawings, and photos were gifted back to the elders.


Design and Maps Brought Back to Grandma, Photo by Brian McGrath 2023.