The Organic Architecture Guild

A Sustainability Union

Traditional Dwellings of the World


Caves

The most basic form of shelter is the cave. They were advantageous as a found form of shelter, yet they could be expanded to meet changing human needs, by linking, extending or branching off. Providing natural shelter and warmth, the cave is also a protective shelter from invaders, animals and other predators and could be concealed easily by covering the entrance.

Cones of Cappadocia, Central Anatolia, Turkey

This Strange natural and man made landscape of houses, churches, farms, granaries and monasteries has evolved from generations, formed from Volcanic Tufa Stone, an ancient compacted dust from the volcano Erciyes. It is very soft and has formed minarets from years of erosion, as well as from additional man made help. Inhabitants have carved caves, holes an formed new structures by carving the stone. Once a new surface is exposed it naturally hardens to form a protective layer.

Dogon

About 250,000 people living along the Niger River Near Timbuktu. Dwellings are either built along the flat rock outcroppings of the plateau's between arable lands, and on cliff debris, directly on the fallen rocks of the high cliffs.  Using clay and water to seal varying spaces, they form cluster dwellings for main living, granaries and outdoor spaces that form yards.  Dwellings reflect religious beliefs that call for the implementation of symbols into everyday life, including their dwellings. Villages are built in pairs to reflect Heaven and Earth.

Tents and Fabrics

The Nomadic Bedouin of the Middle East, North Africa keep their traditional sheep and goat herding and animal husbandry as their main livelihood. Thus the tent is a simple and adaptable system. The main structure is formed by a cable system made of woven goats hair or sheep's wool. These cables act as a type of space frame, with partitions and walls made of thick woolen rugs and curtains. The prosperity of the tribe is reflected in the size of these family compounds and the number of tent poles, peaks and the type of woven decorations embedded in the fabrics. This life style and building method reflects the desert environment, available resources and materials and the mobility of society as a natural system. Today you see many Bedouin villages  that have become sedentary, abandoning their mobile life styel and shanty towns are formed using modern materials such as metal and plastic which do not perform adequately in the desert as do natural, breathable materials that can be layered like clothing on the body. There are several types of typical construction employed by the Berber and Arab Tribes of North Africa from Tunisia and Morocco, but extending all the way into Mongolia and China.

  • The Stretched type, is a light weight, mobile, goat and camel hair tent used by nomads. Fabrics can be folded up and laid over varying types of frames.
  • The Dug Into type is a more sedentary type of earth berming, that uses the earth's mass a form of heat sink and foundation, over which masonry, fabric or other types of shelter can be erected. The troglodyte of Tunisia keep most of there dwelling completely below the surface of the landscape, allowing for minimal to no profiles , useful when sand storms blow through.
  • The Built Up type, is most similar to the western practice of construction.  And of these, there are two basic and contrasting methods.The first is the thin shell dome type. The dome and tunnel and arched or groin vaults are widely used for their engineering simplicity of form, yet complexity of methodology.  Masons can essentially build up their shells without formwork using the structural arch principle. The thin shell
    is made of masonry units and a quick setting mortar. Over the dome or arch is placed a thick layer of reinforced mortar that acts as sheathing and weatherproofing. The second type, employs he earths mass in thick compacted walls to keep out the desert heat and store its built up radiant energy for the nigh time cold. Openings are small and few.

Yurts

Related to the desert dwellings are similar types of light weight dwellings for the rainier mountainous regions. They are both solid in construction as well as mobile.  Its main frame is an expanding lattice that forms its walls in a semicircle. Strips of wood are fastened together with lashing at diagonals.  Many of these lattice panels can be tied together and then a singular rope or tension ring is fastened along the top. This band then forms the basis for roof  framing poles that tie radially into a compression ring.  Sometimes a central poles is used as additional support. The frame is then covered with varying amounts of pelt, skin, fabric or other types of coverings depending on the climate, season and length of stay.

Early Timber Frame Structures

When Agricultural techniques became more advanced in Europe around 2500BC, early framers needed more space for grain and storage. Size was often limited to the length of trees used as framing members and thus longer, narrow buildings were often formed. Poles were lashed together, and earth was often bermed up along the sides to buttress the roof. Over the purlins, they placed their thatch, turf or bark roofing. Yet this was often a dark, damp and smoky existence in northern climates.  As advancements were made in experience and tool making beyond bronze axes and stone knives, heavier, larger timbers could be used and opening could be made between supports around 700 bc and the emergence of Iron Tools. Timbers could be notched together to fit structurally eliminating the need for lashings. Thus the Pole, The Plank and the Peg became the dominant architectural elements of Europe. Often, stone was employed as a wall base to help resist the lateral thrust of roofs, as building grew in size.

Advanced Design

As cultures became more sophisticated, building was note merely a end game to provide shelter, but could embody and reflect the cultural and religious beliefs and philosophies of a community. In the North of Russia, in Archangel, there are superb examples of craft and architectural spirit.  Shown here is the masterful Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration on an island of Lake Onega. Structures Like this were often built by anonymous peasants with unrelenting skill. However,  this church, built primarily with an ax as the main tool,  was designed and built by Nester, and upon completion, swung the ax into the lake, proclaiming," This ax Shall know no other beauty such as this." It is a symbol of the perfect unity of human skill, strength and will.

Reed Structures

The example here is a reed structure called a  "mudhif" and it is located in Iraq, outside of Baghdad. This technique is 6,000 years old and consists of bundling the giant 20' tall reeds that grow along the Tigris and Euphrates. Each tall bundle acts as a cable, and is stuck into the ground in pairs across from one another in structural bays. Each bundle is then bent over to meet at the apex and forms an arched vault. Reeds are then laid like purlins between the arched ribs to form the sheathing in multiple layers. Since the reeds grow fast and are readily available, the thatching can be replaced often once becoming overly dried out and brittle.

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