home is where the ger is

Favoured by nomadic herders throughout central Asia for thousands of years, gers (similar to yurts)* are sturdy and easily transportable circular felt tents that offer low impact living and can add valuable space to your living area.

These free-standing, self-supporting structures use a combination of compression and tension to hold their shape, allowing them to be pitched on any surface with minimal space — ideal for backyards, larger patios and even inside sheds.

Unlike tepees, gers have lower, vertical walls topped by a dome-shaped roof. The walls are made of latticed wood (khana) and support over 80 wooden poles that reach up to a central crown (tono), where smoke escapes and sunlight enters. The whole structure is covered in layers of felt and tough canvas and bound with horsehair ropes. Doorways traditionally face south towards the sun (in the northern hemisphere) and to avoid prevailing steppe-winds (from Siberia!). You will need to duck when entering but once inside there is ample space to stand. Floor coverings are recommended for winter use, with rugs or bare earth viable options in summer.

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With a low profile of two metres, gers fit unobtrusively into their surroundings allowing for a more personal interaction with nature and the seasons. During winter months felted-wool layers insulate against the cold and help retain heat from the central stove. In summer, the walls can be rolled up to let in cool breezes or the felt can replaced with breathable canvas.

Gers are durable, eco-friendly dwellings that are also easily transported. Nomadic herders in Mongolia move their homes up to four times a year, with three people taking about an hour to erect their home. Less experienced folk should set aside three to five hours. Once dismantled the average six-foot diameter yurt weighs about 200 pounds and can be moved in a van or large trailer, or traditional yak-drawn cart (if you have one handy). When not in use a ger will take up the space of a small shed. The wooden frames can last as long as 100 years, felt covers up to 20 years and canvas outers to 15 years.

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More than just a practical dwelling the ger’s construction symbolises the universe on a miniature scale. The floor represents the Earth, the roof is the Sky and the smoke-hole is the Sun. Five basic elements are also represented: Earth (floor), Wood (wooden frame), Fire (in the hearth), Metal (stove) and Water (in kettle on stove). The wooden support poles (bagana) also symbolise the world tree which shamans climb to reach the upper spirit world. Such ancient and spiritual attributes make gers ideal locations for meditation, holistic healing, home-birthing and weddings, with their circular floor plan creating a cosy, womb-like interior.

door view

And as a viable alternative to renovating, these robust dwellings provide a cheap, practical alternative to extending your home. How you use it will be limited only by your imagination. What about as a spare rooms for guests, or as an office, study or craft room? Need more room for the kids? Then how about using it as a cubby-house or private teenage den? It could even be a luxurious and romantic alternative to living in a tin-shed or old caravan while building your dream straw-bale home. But beware… you may never want to leave!

 

* Gers are the traditional homes of Mongolian herders who roam the rolling steppes between Russia and China. The word ‘ger’ means home and should not be confused with Turkic or Kazakh yurts. While they may appear very similar, there a subtle differences – gers have straight roofpoles and a squat profile, while yurts tend to be taller with poles that bend at the wall.

 

Resources:

‘Mongolian Cloud Houses’, Dan Frank Kuehn, Shelter Publications,1980 & 2006

‘Circle Houses: Yurts, Tipis and Benders’, David Pearson, Chelsea Green, 2001

‘The Complete Yurt Handbook’, Paul King, eco-logic books, 2004

‘Home Work – Handbuilt Shelter’, Lloyd Kahn, Shelter Publications, 2004

TOP IMAGE – Jennie Stevens, 2004

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