A yurt (Turkish) or a ger (Mongolian) is the basic catch-all phrase for a round-ish portable structure, traditionally used by the nomads of the Central Asian steppes, that has found modern popularity due to it’s simplicity and durability of design. For more on traditional yurts go to the resources page. It’s round, squat shape allows it to withstand strong winds and storms, while the central wheel and hyperboloid wall design distributes weight so effectively that the roof can usually support people walking on it (and snow loads).
The yurt I built was a modern riff on the traditional Mongolian style ger, which is a popular variety and most like the ones you’ll see for sale. There are a lot of varieties, but I’ll be covering the basics of the one I made for the sake of this blog. There is a blog post later about alternatives, unique ideas, and the upsides/downsides of each.
The wood frame “skeleton”:
First is the flat timber lattice wall (khana) made of lath, poles, etc. that are tied together in a diamond pattern which creates the ability to stretch out and condense the wall pieces like an accordian or those small dog/baby gates for doorways. When it is stretched out, a tension rope or band keeps it from stretching out any more and causing the yurt to collapse. The ends of these meet and are tied to the door frame (nars) which can be as simple as a square of 2x4s screwed together if you don’t plan on a proper door (khaalga).
Second up, the roof is made of poles (uni) which can be straight or bent at the ends, sit at the top of each open cross of the wall and have a loop of rope to hook it in to the wall poles. The other end is inserted into the crown-wheel (toono or tono), which as a keystone to counterbalance all the roof poles. The toono is definitely the most important component and usually the trickiest to build. It can be as simply or as fancy as you are willing to make it. Over it will either go the crown cover (oerkh) which is just a square of canvas, or a skylight of plastic or some sort of material.
The roof and wall covers are pretty much the same with outer covers that are usually some form of canvas, inner layers are insulating like wool felt, and sometimes there is also an inner cover, all of which can “breathe”. Of course, everyone plays with this design. You can have an inner cover layer of mosquito netting to roll up the sides of the tent without letting bugs in. An outer cover made of waterproof tarps. Inner layers of wool, hay, carpet, insulating material, or whatever else you can get your hands on to stay warm. It’s all been done before, and the flexibility of design makes it easy to augment your yurt for whatever you want for whatever purpose.