The word “house” evokes different images in each of us, reflecting our place of origin and background. It is surprising to see how many kinds of living places exist around the world, as well as understanding the reasons for their main features.
The ability to adapt to the environment is a quality that stands out in vernacular architecture. The techniques used for centuries to meet the main purposes of a house do not just show the wit of thousand-year constructors, but also offer keys for bio-climatic design. Asking which were the reasons behind a bamboo hut or the elf-like turf houses in Iceland is essential to design context-sensitive houses and to celebrate other cultures.
The word “Inuit” is used to call ethnic groups living in the Arctic area, in northern Canada, Alaska, and Greenland. Their traditions are still strong, despite the changes in the environment provoked by global warming. Among other things, they are known for the construction of snow shelters called igloos, which are made by cutting solid ice blocks. Experienced Inuit people can build an igloo in less than 40 minutes. Even though this is no longer the predominant kind of house among the Inuit, they are used when snowstorms and blizzards hit, allowing hunter groups to protect themselves against the environment in a fast way. The inside of an igloo reaches temperatures 20˚C higher than the exterior; this difference can save a person from freezing and allows them to maintain a stable body temperature.
Dorze Huts, Ethiopia
The Dorze community is an ethnic group from Ethiopia, located in the mountainous region of Arba Minch. This village is known for the ability of its people to weave and they have become important producers of traditional Ethiopian clothes. They especially stand out in the art of weaving bamboo, to the point of making their houses using this old technique. Dorze huts are some kind of 12-meter high baskets that can be easily rolled up and moved to another location. Despite the humidity of the mountainous environment, the use of indoor bonfires is a good method to cure the material and make it more durable. When the base of the structure is worn, it is cut and as the rest still works, they can last more than 60 years.
Yurt, Mongolia and Central Asia
Nomadic villages predominate in the steppe in central Asia, particularly in countries like Mongolia. These communities require houses with a light structure, which are easy to build, and transport, reason why they have kept yurts for 3,000 years. Yurts are structured tents made of wood or bamboo and covered with several layers of felt, fur, and cotton cloth. The predominant ecosystem, lacking trees or hills to block the wind, make their circular shape the best climatic adaptation to avoid damage to their structure. There is a ring at the center of the yurt cover that allows a chimney to pass through.
Turf Houses, Iceland
Iceland’s ecosystem and location made its architectural adaptation fuse with the landscape. The country’s best known vernacular technique is seen in turf houses, whose implementation dates from over one thousand years back. Iceland had little surface covered by forests, so wood was scarce and it was mainly used to build the structure of houses. Grasslands abounded, so they were used to create blocks of building material and as an isolating layer for covering buildings. In the early 20th century, the search for modernization caused them to lessen; however, when the typology was appointed World Heritage by UNESCO, people were encouraged to keep houses as a symbol to exalt their culture.
Troglodyte Houses, Matmata, Tunisia
There is a desert region in the southern part of Tunisia called Matmata, whose vernacular architecture is made up by underground houses that look like craters. Rock digging to build houses is a tradition that goes several thousand years back in the area. Burying houses allows people to isolate from extreme desert temperatures. Formerly, in times of war, the lack of volume made them hard to be seen from the distance and they went unnoticed. Each house is settled around an open circular courtyard, which is the base on which the architectural plan is developed. Matmata constructions are famous due to their appearance in the Star Wars film saga.