I could not resist booking a stay in a yurt for my trip to the small mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina. I mean — just look at these pictures!
Once I was there, I found the yurt cozy and fascinating. I studied the lattice framework inside, which I could so easily picture collapsed back together into a tidy space. Then I studied the writing connecting the tentlike fabric of the walls to the circus-top tent features of the roof. The more I looked at it, the more intrigued I became. I wondered why anyone would construct a yurt? Luckily, my questions were answered in a book they’d provided there for guests: YURTS: Living in the Round by Becky Kemery.
So, what is a yurt?
Yurts are portable, tent-like structures that date back to nomadic peoples in Asia. Mongolian yurts come to mind. They were used by Mongolian farmers following herds of sheep, goats, and yak across the steppes of Asia. They needed to keep moving in this harsh landscape in cycle with the seasons. So their housing needed to be mobile, too. The origin of the yurts is hard to pinpoint, but seems to go back as far as the eighth to third centuries B.C.
What makes yurts so distinct (besides their portability) is their structure. They are circular, with latticed walls and a cone-shaped roof supported by rafters that meet in the middle in a center ring. This center ring, or compression ring, is the crux of the structure. Its design is genius. The struts meet in a center ring that produces downward pressure and holds the rafters in a state of compression. This enables there to be long roof spans without the need for support beams, creating a space that feels spacious and uplifting contrary to the downward compression that makes it possible.
At the center of the roof is often a skylight or opening that lets in natural light. A bubble dome atop the compression ring is not unusual and creates the impression of letting nature in as well.
The compression ring structure of the yurt is fantastic; it makes the structures resilient to earthquakes, heavy snowfall, and strong winds. It’s incredible in its simplicity.
What I loved was the feel of it. I’ve heard some people describe staying in a yurt as “glamping” (glamorous camping). I can’t really compare it to camping. Yes, our yurt was constructed of heavy fabric walls. And yes, it was tucked into the mountainside on a gravel road. But it had a stove, refrigerator, shower, television, and all the amenities you’d find in a rental cabin. Nothing about it seemed like camping or glamping to me.
But it did have a feeling of energy that I embraced. I think the openness and the airy space of one large circular room pointing up to a skylight made it feel “earthy.” I felt snuggled in, like I was in a secret clubhouse, or blanket tent. So maybe that does fall into the camping/glamping category.
“Circular living provides a balance of looking inward and outward, looking out at the natural environment and surroundings, but then coming in again to the self and the hearth,” says David Raitt, yurt builder.
Perhaps that’s it; that feeling of bringing the inside and outside together. The eternal feeling of circles that you find in other aspects of the world.
Do yurts appeal to you? Have you ever stayed in one?