A yurt is a round domed shelter used by nomads across Central Asia. Several other cultures have adopted the basic yurt design and adopted it for their own needs; in the United States, for example, many alternative housing companies and contractors build structures which they refer to as “yurts.” A true yurt is designed to be lightweight and portable so that it can be moved along with its owner.
The tradition of the yurt is probably quite ancient. The basic design is essentially like an enhanced tent. The round shape is extremely supportive, and made stronger with the use of a wooden framework so that the yurt can withstand high winds and inclement weather. The domed roof promotes water runoff and prevents the accumulation of snow, maintaining the structural integrity of the yurt.
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A well constructed yurt is extremely lightweight and it can be broken down into manageable components which are carried by camels, yaks, or other beasts of burden. Once the group of nomads reaches the next camping spot, the framework of the yurt can be quickly erected so that a covering of felt or skins can be attached. A skin or felt-covered yurt is very water resistant, and the thick covering will also help to insulate the interior.
These distinctive portable houses can be seen on the steppes of Central Asia and Russia, and they are closely associated with the nomadic culture of these regions. The word is derived from a Turkish term, yurta, which means “homeland.” The concept that a homeland is movable was carried over into the yurt, a secure home which nomads can carry with them. Yurts can be filled with bedding and other features of home, and many have space for stoves so that cooking can be performed indoors in poor weather.
A yurt can also be designed to occupy a fixed point. This trend is especially common in North America, where several companies specialize in manufacturing yurts of all sizes, along with sturdy wooden platforms to build them on. These homes tend to be cheaper to build than more conventional homes, and they often use construction materials like reclaimed wood and steel so that they are more environmentally efficient. Although the yurts are not traditional because they are not portable, they share the classic round shape of classical yurts, along with the gently sloped roof, often with an opening or skylight at the top so that residents can see the sky.