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16 Dec. 1984

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Roof struts made from saplings were slipped into a central wooden ring, then tied to the top of circular lattice walls and covered with the felted mats.
Realizing that yurts made a great teaching and community-building tool, Bill began building wooden tapered-wall yurts with groups of students. In 1972 Bill established the Yurt Foundation to continue his vision of studying indigenous cultures and applying their technologies to modern culture to design a simpler, more harmonious and sustainable way of living. Chuck Cox, one of Bill’s students, built a canvas-covered version of the yurt as a student project at Cornell University. In 1978 another student, Kirk Bachman, built a canvas yurt using the Coxes’ plans as a project at Idaho State University. While Alan was developing Pacific Yurts, Don and Emma Kiger were building tipis in Colorado and developing their own unique fabric yurt design which grew into the Colorado Yurt Company. The fine woodworking aspects of the Rainier Yurt design reflects its origins in the 1990’s with yacht builder Will Hayes (formerly Nesting Bird Yurts). One of the most interesting recent innovations is the exceptionally portable camping or backyard yurt, developed by GoYurt Shelters and Rainier Yurts.
David’s designs evolved from the original tapered wall yurt to a straight walled version. Australian Mike Shepherd was inspired by David and Annie Raitt’s work with California Yurts and started Goulburn Yurtworks in his sheep-shearing shed in Australia. Yurt companies in the UK and EU have focused on building traditional yurts, both Mongolian and Turkic. Key players on the European front include Hal Wynn-Jones, who has trained many of the finest UK and EU yurt builders on the Turkic version of the yurt.
In Japan, a fascination with all things Mongolian has meant the importation of traditional gers from Mongolia alongside of some frame panel yurts built by David Raitt. Hawaii hosts some interesting variants on the yurt made from indigenous bamboo and created by Bamboo Living Homes.
Whatever form of shelter one ultimately chooses, it is good to learn from this ancient nomadic path, from the people of the yurt, and from the circle itself as it speaks of the unity and interconnectedness of all things. Bruce Sargent wrote me a while back about a yurt he had built and that he was in the process of putting a book together to tell his story and show others how he built a yurt for less than $1,000. Ten years ago, at Spirit Hollow, a shamanic school tucked back in the Taconic Mountains of Vermont, I fell in love with yurts. Later as I worked in Boston, seventy hours per week, at a Fortune 500 company, making more money than I had at any point in my life, I daydreamed of yurts. In the next year, down-sized by life, aching for simplicity, living in an attic room and tending an organic garden belonging to friends, my head was still full of yurts.
How this all happen, step by step, the ideas, the calculations, designs, construction ideas that led to the simplest plan possible, the good fortune and blind luck that completed my yurt -home is the story that follows. Personally, I would love to see a post on varying methods of building a Tiny House complete with cost analysis on such areas as Sand Bags, Yurts, Geodesic Domes, Cabin with reclaimed material, Straw Bale, Shipping Containers, etc. Many people dream of building their own home, but few actually bring that dream to fruition.
This amazing multi-storied yurt was built by Bill Coperthwaite, using only hand tools at Dickinsons Reach, his homestead in Maine. Yurt building workshops provide training in the basic stills required to build a tapered wall wooden yurt.


The Standard Yurt: This is the smallest plan for an insulated yurt and can be used as a comfortable four-season home, office, guesthouse, studio, or study (Mike spent three Massachusetts winters in this one). The Concentric Yurt uses an inner yurt to help support the roof of the larger outer yurt, and to provide additional floor space. The Family Yurt: This plan was developed to provide a structure that would be pleasant to live in and allow people to build the yurt in stages, thereby avoiding borrowing. A bamboo yurt being built as a health center during a workshop with Future Generations in Arunachal Pradesh, India. Here he built, with students, the first complete yurt with lattice walls, a lattice roof structure and a cloth covering. In 1968, as part of his Doctoral program at Harvard, he worked with a group of students from the Study Travel School to build a campus in New Hampshire comprised completely of tapered wall yurts.
When Kirk graduated and became a back country guide in the mountains of central Idaho, he lived in his yurt. While continuing to perfect yurt design with his company, now called Pacific Yurts, Alan marketed fabric yurts locally, nationally, and eventually worldwide.
Blue Evening Star, a tipi maker, incorporated tipi design into a unique form of yurt geared to Southwest living. David built yurt homes and communities in New Hampshire and California and eventually established California Yurts. Building both roof and walls as framed-in panels (which could be pre-fabricated and transported to a site) made it possible to meet California’s stringent building codes while still keep costs affordable for the homeowner.
Morgan combined his study of indigenous architecture with the Coperthwaite and Raitt designs to build himself a yurt when he moved to Oregon. Likewise, Paul King’s Complete Yurt Handbook has become the Bible worldwide for the homebuilt yurt, both Mongolian and Turkic styles. In Australia and New Zealand, however, the interest seems to be on importing traditional yurts. I was bedazzled by an exotic tent, with a framed door, wooden floor, diamond latticed walls and rays of rafters, arching out from a central sky light. Despite some modifications for insulation, I just don’t understand why some of the larger Yurt companies here charge such a high fee.
If you're looking for some DIY inspiration, look no further than this post -- Inhabitat writer Rachel Ross proves that building a beautiful, healthy and sustainable abode is well within your reach. It goes up fast, and a speed build to weather-tight means that no valuable building materials were adversely affected by rain and snow — which happens in many places, but especially in Canada through the winter. If you are interested in hosting a yurt-building workshop, write to Dickinsons Reach with details about your project. The inner yurt supports the roof of the outer one, saving in materials and providing a larger living space under one roof than the Standard Yurt allows. Kirghiz yurts, in particular, use a lot of color and design motifs in both felted and reed work. They weave the rugs that become floor coverings and wall hangings, and the belts that go around the yurt, holding the lattice wall together and the coverings in place. His employer asked him to build a few yurts as experimental backcountry ski huts, and a national phenomenon was born. Using the Coxes’ plans and later printing his own, Charlie produced numerous canvas yurts for the Hoedads under the name Cascade Shelter.


It was Alan who worked with the Oregon Parks Department to develop the use of yurts in campgrounds, now a national phenomenon. GoYurt Shelters has an additional focus on sustainable materials like FSC certfied wood, natural canvas and non-toxic finishes. Building the wooden deck takes carpentry skills and a week or two to complete, but putting up the yurt itself takes less than a day, or two days for a 30′ yurt.
By its very existence, the yurt calls forth life in simplicity, in community, and in harmony with the planet. I made calculations of the cost of acreage, cost of a bridge to cross the river, cost of a floor and the cost of a Pacific Yurt sixteen feet in diameter. I obtained books by Len Charney, Paul King and Dan Kuehn and down loaded a paper by Charles Lokey, works that would comprise the books of my yurt bible.
If I had built a permanent floor in Massachusetts it would have been subject to building codes. Rachel, who is a design consultant and co-owner of Mandala Homes, worked with her husband on creating not one, but a series of sustainable and ENERGY STAR rated yurts that fully embrace their beautiful wooded site located in Nelson, B.C., Canada!
He found in the yurt both rich potential for creative design and an opportunity to develop a simple dwelling that people could build themselves.
This concentric way of dividing the circle gives a delightful feel of flowing space in the outer ring, and a sense of shelter and seclusion in the inner yurt.
Chuck and his wife Laurel produced a set of portable yurt plans that became the basis of modern canvas yurt design in North America. Today yurts serve backcountry uses coast to coast, servicing Nordic hut-to-hut skiers and summer hikers alike. Jump ahead for Rachel's first-hand account detailing both the process and design, and get motivated to get your own yurt going!
Myself, my husband Lars, and our 15 year old daughter, Poppy, designed our house using Slow Home principles for building houses that are healthy, designed to exactly fit the inhabitants and are gentle on the environment. Bill designed the tapered-wall yurt to enable people to play a larger role in creating their own shelter, using a design that reduces required building skills to a minimum while still producing a beautiful, inexpensive permanent shelter.
The inner yurt is raised a half story, with a resulting under-story that provides space for a couch, bookshelves, pantry, storage, bunks, etc.
I knew I could do all of this and build a yurt wall, and from this place, I believed I could take on the rest of it. Concentric yurts are used as permanent homes, summer homes, community common rooms, and seminar and library spaces. Yurts, with permission of a town board, could be considered a primitive shelter, an entirely different permission than in Massachusetts. The Concentric Yurt has five times the space of a Standard Yurt and, with 26 windows, is flooded with light.


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