Yurts. Not Just for Hippies Anymore


I am going to get in so much trouble for this post. First, I go off to the Sportsman's Show, which is all about huntin' and fishin' and ATVs and big motors and guns and ammo and what do I find there? A yurt, the ultimate dwelling for hippies in rancid ponchos. And the company selling it was called Groovyyurts. This was wrong in so many ways.

Then I started talking to Yves Ballenegger, who loves driving trucks and founded Globetrucker, a non-profit that brings school supplies to the children of Mongolia. Instead of driving back empty, he filled it with yurts, furniture and other handicrafts.

As an architect I have often joked about yurts but had never actually been in one. I was shocked at the sophistication of the structure and the degree of comfort.


The walls are a wood lattice, a strong, resilient structure that was used in Wellington bombers in WW2 because of the way it distributes loads and takes abuse. A central ring is placed on the middle of the room and rods are run from the ring to the lattice at the perimeter. Outward thrust is resisted by horsehair ropes running around the perimeter, and horsehair loops in tension carry the load from the rods.


Traditionally the center ring is mostly open and there are central fires, but as a sop to North American tastes Yves offers a skylight system that can accommodate a stove. The fabric covering is a sandwich of canvas and felt, modified for more humid North American conditions. Yves says that a small wood stove keeps it warm in the worst of winters.


They are extraordinarily cheap, too. A 22 foot diameter yurt costs under C$ 6,000 (US$ 5060) with the insulated skin, all done up with mongolian painting on the framing. Yves assembled the whole thing for the show in two hours.

I am not a yurt kind of guy, but I can certainly appreciate that out there in Mongolia they have distilled a structure that is efficient, elegant and comfortable. ::Groovyyurts

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