Spring Project: Yurt Studio
Apologies for my small winter sabbatical that was unannounced and unplanned – but, hey, such is life!
Anyways, now that we’re rolling into spring I’m excited to write about a new project that’s on hand and in motion: a yurt studio being built on my family’s farm in New Jersey!
In this project we get to not only embrace a modern rendition of ancient Mongolian architecture, but we also get an opportunity to incorporate other natural building elements, such as creatively up-cycling objects, applying principles of passive solar design, natural plasters, and my ultimate favorite, building interior partitions with cob.
We chose to buy a pre-fabricated yurt from Pacific Yurts instead of constructing one completely from scratch. There are several reasons for this. One major factor in our decision was our current lifestyle and time constraints. Both my husband and I work full-time which would greatly inhibit the time we could expend on designing, building and sourcing materials for a completely homemade yurt. Most weeks we only have one day off together, which means a project that will take several weeks with a pre-fab yurt, would take several months with a homemade yurt.
The most persuasive aspect however, was the availability of statistics for pre-fab yurts. In order to get township approval in our area, we needed guaranteed quality and to present engineering studies of our yurt structure that could satisfy ‘the standards’ our building officials demand. In the backwoods of Oregon this type of township approval wouldn’t feel so urgent, but in dense, over-developed New Jersey, this is simply the reality we have to contend with.
Yurt living is an exciting and unique building option for several reasons:
- What’s a yurt? A yurt is essentially a circular tent that is strong, lightweight, and durable. The wooden skeleton is covered with a skin of thin canvas.
- Indoor/Outdoor Paradox. The outside feels very much inside – there’s a paradox of being both protected, safe, and cozy and also feeling completely exposed to the outdoor elements.
- Morning Light. For example, in the morning you will wake up with the sun because it streams right through the canvas. The morning light slowly glowing through the cloth and space is really magical image for me.
- Outdoor Awareness. The non-existent auditory insulation means that you are constantly exposed to all outside sounds – the birds, the cars, the wind, the trees, the animals on their nighttime prowl. This invites an immediacy and intimate awareness to the outside world that you simply don’t appreciate in any other type of structure.
- Natural Sounds. This could be both positive or negative – it really depends on the site. If you can choose a spot with an enjoyable natural soundscape, there’s no reason why you’re wouldn’t appreciate this ‘exposure’.
- Circular Spaces. There’s something very primordial and comfortable about a circular space. Our modern lives are played out in boxes – our homes (drywall boxes), our cars (metal boxes), and our work cubicles (demoralizing boxes). When a space you inhabit is circular, your whole psyche and way of interacting with other people changes. Physical structures change human emotional structures.
- Open floor plan. A yurt, by default, has an open floor plan.The value of dynamic open space is vast. It embraces human activity played out in daily life more than formal spaces that too often become underused – dead and obsolete spaces.
- Ultimate mobility. The Mongolian tribes, who lived out in barren tundra, designed their traditional yurt (ger) structures to be easily assembled and disassembled within a few days, making it ideal for people who are inherently nomadic, or for those who truly want a sacred space to call home without needing to make long term commitments to specific place.