Sugar Shack, A Modern Yurt

For economical, efficient, and comfortable living, this Arizona couple decided to build a modern yurt.

| May/June 1983

  • modern yurt - the finished structure
    Thanks to its circular design and wood-and-native-rock exterior, our "Sugar Shack" modern yurt blends in particularly well with the surrounding terrain.
    Photo by Mary A. Mercker
  • modern yurt - view of the roof peak from underneath
    Here's a good look at the roof's strong central support system.
    Mary A. Mercker

  • modern yurt - the finished structure
  • modern yurt - view of the roof peak from underneath

Three years ago, my husband and I bought a four-acre lot on the outskirts of Tucson with the intention of building "someday." The mobile home we lived in at the time was too large for us (since our children were grown and had left home). Besides which, we wanted to try our hand at constructing a "real" house.

We knew that taking on such a project would be ambitious to say the least. I had only a little relevant experience, having helped my first husband and my father build a house on a five-acre homestead in the late 50's. And Jerome, my spouse, had had no house-building background at all. However, his job involved doing a bit of plumbing, and as a young man on a farm he'd learned something about rough carpentry and wiring.

Also, we had a few good do-it-yourself books at our disposal, one son who's a skilled carpenter and another in the home maintenance business, and access to numerous self-help stores and lumberyards near our property. So we felt fairly confident that we could tackle the building project and holler for assistance along the way if necessary. Mostly, though, we simply had a lot of stubborn determination to prove (to ourselves and others) that we could construct something lasting and attractive with our own four hands!

In fact, only one question remained: just what would that "something" be?

Learning About Modern Yurts

Fortune soon smiled on us, though , when we heard our area's university was offering a course in housing construction. We figured it was just what we needed, and hurried to enroll.

The class was taught by Don Schultz, a professor in the Systems and Industrial Engineering Department of the University of Arizona. It was a labor of love on Don's part, since he's genuinely excited about the idea of people's pitching in and working together to build low-cost housing for themselves. And in the professor's mind, no structure lends itself better to such an end than the yurt: the traditional, dome-shaped dwelling used by the Mongolians for centuries. Don, however, had modified the design slightly, so that—rather than being perfectly round—a home based upon his plan would be polygonal (many-sided).


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