Modern Yurt Construction

Yurt Foundation founder Bill Coperthwaite talks about modern yurt construction, the efficiency of round houses and design ideas for small spaces.

| May/June 1974

As the designer of the modern yurt, I'm often asked about the structure's advantages . . . so I'll start this article by mentioning some of the strong points of yurt construction.

[1] One outstanding merit of the modified Asian shelter is its low cost. The most expensive part of most houses is the finish, both interior and exterior. In the yurt, structure and finish are united: The visible inner and outer surfaces serve to hold up the roof. A little wax on the smooth pine walls of a yurt to ease cleaning is the only non-structural treatment needed.

[2] Most domestic structures need high eaves to lift their joists or ceiling timbers clear of their occupants' heads. The tension band around the top of a yurt, on the other hand, makes possible the use of low, only slightly pitched overhead beams. This permits a cosier, more easily heated round house that hugs the ground and blends gently with the landscape.

[3] Another fuel-saving factor is the yurt's circularity. Round structures present less surface to the outside chilling forces than do angular ones, and so need less energy for heating. Similarly, they're more easily cooled in summer.


Comments like those I've just made often bring another question: "If round houses are so good, why weren't they developed sooner or used more?" Well, of course, they were! A large part of the world's population calls a round space home (or did until recently). In North America alone, there were the hogans of the Navajo, the Sioux tipis, the Mandan earth lodges, the thatched domes of the Wichitaw, the beautiful kivas of the Pueblo and Anasazi and the igloos of the Canadian north. Consider also the yurts of inner Asia, the Lapp kotas, the trulli in Italy, the kraals, rondavls and rich variety of other circular dwellings current in Africa today.

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