A yurt consists of a round wall and a roof system that is free standing using a tension ring at the wall and a compression ring where the roof rafters tie together.  This is essentially a cone sitting on a cylinder. Traditionally, yurts were used in central Asia by nomadic herding family groups and tribes.  These versatile structures have been around for at least 2500 years.  Recently the yurt (or “ger” as it is traditionally called) has been imported to North America and Europe.  Modern design changes have been incorporated, such as steel fasteners and architectural fabric coverings.  This ancient design is still finding new and innovative uses in the modern world.

Three types of yurts are predominant in the world today.  The fabric yurt, which Shelter Designs builds, is a portable, fabric-covered yurt based on the Mongolian ger.  A frame-panel yurt is a permanent structure built of wood with a yurt-style roof.  Lastly is the traditional ger from central Asia.  For a complete history of yurts and an overall invaluable information resource, check out author Becky Kemmery’s website at www.yurtinfo.org.


Architectural Digest has described the yurt as “an architectural wonder”.  This is because the shape of the yurt, in combination with its lightweight members being in both tension and compression, results in a structure that is highly efficient in maximizing strength and space, while also minimizing use of materials. This makes the yurt the ultimate mobile home.

In fact, this is the purpose for which the yurt was originally designed. Being homes, they need to be structurally sound.  Being mobile, they also need to be easily dismantled and compactly packed-up so that they can be transported (usually on camels or yaks) and quickly reassembled at another site. Remarkably, a traditional yurt could be completely rebuilt in about 2 hours.  The yurt’s original name is actually derived from a Turkic word referring to the imprint left in the ground by a moved yurt.

A yurt’s structural integrity is due to the combination of compression and tension working in conjunction to form a freestanding structure with a long roof span that lacks interior rafter supports – hence it is more spacious.  Compression and tension are achieved by the interplay between the yurt’s center ring, rafters, and main cable. The rafters meet at the center ring (or “compression ring”) located at the top and center of the yurt. The ring holds the rafters in a state of compression, as the weight of the rafters produces inward and downward pressure. From the center ring, the rafters radiate out and down at a thirty-degree angle toward the trellis wall at the yurt’s perimeter.  This creates a natural outward pressure against the wall. A cable or band (traditionally made of rope or woven cloth) at the top of the wall is preset to match the circumference of the perimeter wall in order to integrate the wall and roof structure and thereby hold the rafters in tension against the outward pressure. 

The structural integrity of the yurt’s clever framework allows lightweight materials to be used for the roof, the walls, the dome and the door, all of which enclose and protect the yurt framework. Shelter Designs’ state-of-the-art yurts preserve the sense of wholeness of the ancient form, while using modern-day materials to deliver structural integrity, longevity and low maintenance demanded by modern users.

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