What’s a Yurt?

Two posts from my sister on Whatsapp from Ulaanbataar in Mongolia really got me thinking.

She had shown me a photo of the yurt belonging to the building manager for her apartment block before.  He and his family live in their ger or yurt alongside the apartment building.  But he had been away for his summer holidays and was re-erecting his ger on the same spot as last year.

The photo at 12:17pm shows the floor down and the frame erected.  By 1:58pm, the entire structure had been completed.

Yurts have provided accommodation across Asia as far as Turkey for thousands of years.  In Mongolia they are called gers, which means “home”.

Mongolia has an extreme climate — from as low as -40°C to as high as +40°C… and these gers provide a comfortable environment throughout that temperature range.

So… I just had to learn more about Yurts!  I’m not convinced that bricks or blocks & mortar are necessary the best building materials… and concrete is certainly not a green building material.  Apart from tourist and every day accommodation, are they a possible alternative to SA’s sprawling shanty towns?  When one starts reading about yurts, the passion and enthusiasm that people have for them stands out.

Yurts have become popular around the world and are “the most popular special accommodation type on Airbnb”, according to Airbnb, which declared “2014 as the Year of the Yurt”.

Mongolia’s capital experienced a boom after the Russians moved out and The Guardian wrote about Ulaanbataar’s Yurt Tent City:   “Public officials may struggle to coax the ger dwellers to swap their felt and canvas for bricks and mortar. Mongolians’ attachment to their gers is both practical – they are warm in winter and cool in summer – and emotional.”

But the yurts you’re likely to rent on AirBnB, or elsewhere in the West, will be a far cry from what you’ll find in Mongolia.  You can expect windows, a huge, opening rooflight and internal bathrooms.

Rose River Farm

Rose River Farm, Virginia, USA. A modern interpretation of a 100 sq metre yurt.

Rose River Farm, Virginia, USA. A modern interpretation of a 100 sq metre yurt.

Here are some more conventional yurts, and this video also explains what makes them so special”

Or, for a high-tech, luxury yurt that remains true traditional yurt princles and is undeniably “green”, there’s Canadian yurt-maker, Yurta.

And a typical Mongolian ger…

Tourists can stay in one of these yurts and experience farm life. The only thing that makes them a little less authentic is the concrete base!

Tourists can stay in one of these Mongolian yurts and experience farm life. The only thing that makes them a little less than authentic is the concrete base!

There is a yurt manufacturer in Cape Town, and a yurt you can stay in on the Van der Stel Pass between Villiersdorp and Bot River… and we hope to bring you more about that later.

Traditional yurts are made of canvas with a lining of wool felt.  The traditional structure is a latticework of thin poles or bamboo (as shown in the very first photo).  One North American yurt-builder used fire-resistant bubble wrap for insulation to preserve the translucence of the covering (cost R240 for a whole yurt!) and found it worked well for temperatures as low as -5°C.

What are their advantages?

  • Portability.
  • Insulation from cold and heat which beats bricks and mortar.
  • A breathing structure, which makes it healthier.
  • It’s the cheapest structure you can possibly build!
  • Yurt owners have an emotional attachment to their yurts and there is a very active, global community of yurt owners.
  • No building plans required!

Come back to watch our adventures in building a yurt!


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