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Yurt Builder Conference

written by Rene K. Mueller, Copyright (c) 2009, last updated Mon, July 27, 2009


Tue, May 12, 2009: A few notes from the conference as held in May 8-10 2009. .

World Yurt Makers Conference & Gathering 2009: France

The 1st "World Yurt Makers Conference" (May 8-10 2009) was held in France near Pont d'Arc at the Gorges de l'Ardeche, organized by Nitsan and Lucy from Spirits Intent , held on the Canvas Chic yurt campground.

Gorges de l'Ardeche, France (photo by Andreas Neumann)

Pont d'Arc, France (photo by Andreas Neumann)

Quote from their invitation:

It is to be a world conference gathering of modern yurt makers bringing together yurt makers of from all over to share, vision and feast for the Spirit.

As yurt makers we have all been captivated by something, an essence of the structure itself and beyond it to a living craft and a way of life. It has become an increasingly competitive market, especially in the UK and the USA, and in guarding one's part of that, one can separate oneself from a collective possibility and what we all can share. If we look at the latent tribal awareness which is there, we see that we all have lived a bit of the story of the yurt and its emergence in the west.

So we are calling everyone to the heart to discover what there is in the collective and to tell their story ... documenting nomadic tents, to introduce the origins and traditions of the structure. We are waiting to confirm other visitors, from UK, Europe and USA who have been central in the tent's development. We will follow the story of the yurt from its nomadic origins through how it came to the West to developments of the structure, possibilities, uses and innovations and then where it is going. There is a magical possibility of the yurt being the structure in the next stage in eco-evolution.

Yurt Builders

Attending yurt builders, alphabetically sorted:

Bill Coperthwaite,
Yurt pioneer, educator/teacher (USA)

Charles Cavanaugh, www.milarepa-ecocamp.ch
Yurt reseller, consultant on ecological solutions (Switzerland, France)

Froit, www.froit.nl
Nomad, yurt builder of traditional mongolian yurts (Netherland, Mongolia)

Lodewijk van den Belt, www.canvaschic.com
Owner of "Canvas Chic" yurt campground where 1st World Yurt Maker Conference 2009 was held (France)

Melissa Fletcher, www.yurtsofhawaii.com
Yurt reseller (USA)

Mick Sams, www.hearthworks.co.uk
Yurt builder (UK)

Nancy Polderman, www.al-cros.com/yourte/
Nomad, yurt builder of anansi kyrgiz yurts (Netherland, France)

Nitsan & Lucy, www.spiritsintent.co.uk
Yurt & tent builders, organizers of World Yurt Maker Conference 2009 (UK, France)

Paul Millard, www.redkiteyurts.com
Yurt builder (UK)

Peter & Mügül Andrews, andrewspeter.info
Yurt, tent and nomad researchers (Turkey)

Peter ten Bookum,
Nomad, yurt builder (Netherland, France)

Polly Sams,
Yurt builder (UK)

René K. Müller, www.simplydifferently.org
Nomad, yurt developer/researcher (Switzerland)

plus the staff of Canvas Chic yurt campground and a french film crew filming parts of the conference.

My Notes

Here my brief notes I took during the conference:

May 8, 2009: Day 1

At noon, Nitsan from Spirits Intent introduces the conference, his main points were:

  • bring yurt builders together as part of a foundation
  • create a structure for a movement
  • yurt as grander symbol in relation of tribalhood
  • yurt makers/builder being separated by business and competition, but at the conference to have a place to get together and share

As followup Peter Andrews starts his slideshow presentation - he started in 1966 with his research, was an architect and interested in nomadic structures. His presentation is elaborate and comprehensive, yet, hard to take notes and summarize.

May 9, 2009: Day 2

Bamboo yurt without crown-wheel (Arunachal Pradesh, India)

Bill's home 3 level 54' or 16.5m diameter, residing in Machiasport (Maine, USA)
Morning, Bill Coperthwaite tells his story with The Yurt Foundation and his work:

  • collecting information
  • cultural blending
  • inspiring people to do things themselves, developing self-confidence and decide for themselves
  • yurt as a lifted-up tipi from the ground
  • yurt without crown-wheel: self-supporting roof-poles lying on each other
  • skin & skeleton (traditional yurt setup)
  • next step to make the wall solid (all skin/skeleton), and step by step replacing all "floating" parts of the original yurt with solid pieces, but keeping circular form (photo series below)
  • using shingles to make the roof
  • making a 2 stories solid "yurt", and then extend it to 3 stories

Bill Coperthwaite's "yurt" evolution:

I personally wouldn't call Bill's houses "yurts" anymore, as they only have the circular form in common, otherwise main structural features seem vanished: crown-wheel, roof poles/rafters, lattice wall - yet, he uses still tension rope to hold the circular form, on the other hand his approach requires a lot of detail work and loss of simplicity of the original yurt as tent.

Bill Coperthwaite's solid wall approaches

Bill designed the tapered-wall wooden yurt to enable people to play a larger role in creating their own shelter, using a design that reduces required building skills to a minimum while still producing a beautiful, inexpensive and permanent shelter. (excerpt from "Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter" by Lloyd Khan )

As next we have a general discussion in the circle about yurt and nomadic lifestyle:

  • Lodewijk (owner of the campground where the conference was held) shares his personal experience running a campground with yurts

    Kyrgyzstan Flag; Toono / Yurt Roof-Wheel with sun flames representing the 40 kyrgiz tribes
  • Peter Andrews shares a view on symbolism of yurts, different tribal and cultural aspects and interpretations of symbols
    • circle = sun or moon
    • toono (crown-wheel) = sun
    • door = gateway from the inner to the outer world (soul descending into the material world)
    • khana (lattice wall) = interwoven connection of family or tribe
    • yurt = "place to be or dwell"
  • Nitsan and Lucy (organizer of the conference) talk about transpersonal goal or experience of living in yurts and its implication refereing as "next step"
  • discussion about "next step" within the yurt community, going beyond just building yurts and technical details
  • wide-range backgrounds of the attending individuals, and also different motivations to attend the conference
  • various statements about what yurts and nomadic living means
  • where happiness comes from, from within and not from a tent like a yurt or whatever
  • realizing people having different goals for the conference:
    • technology and ways to make things
    • material sources (manufacturers) of various parts of the yurt
    • sharing experiences finding places and setting up a yurt village or community
    • spiritual sharing and insights on nomadic living

In the afternoon Froit holds a slideshow presentation:

  • felt production in Mongolia using machines
  • felt is the muscle of the yurt/ger
  • fleece as preproduct of felt
  • no washing, no soap used while making felt
  • 3 phases in the tumbler (45min, 30min, 15min)
  • hanging up the felt openly to dry
  • felt insulates: keeps warm in the cold, and cold in the heat
  • twisting of crown-wheel happens due too much fasten while erecting the yurt, Mongolians introduce 4 cords to restabilize the crown-wheel and get back in position
  • 120,000 yurts in Ulaanbataar (UB) as of 2008
  • taking down the yurts at least twice a year, spring and fall
  • 2 felt layers during winter, 1 layer during summer, or optionally using spare felt layer for an additional yurt just pitched for the summer
  • house more luxury and considered more "high class", whereas yurt considered low-cost or low-income dwellings
  • Mongolians which migrate into UB don't go back to country-side even when offered free yurt and stocks to start with: end of nomadic living on Mongolia
  • lifetime of a yurt/ger 20-30 years

    Two Crown Wheel Yurt (20m diameter)
  • nomads move 10 times a year in Gobi Desert, whereas other regions 2-4 times a year
  • nomadic living isn't done by choice but by requirement to find new places to have stocks get food
  • 20m yurt diameter yurt with two concentric crown-wheels, having each roof-pole or rafter being 5m long apprx
  • original mongolian lattice wall isn't straight, but slightly smaller diameter at the top than on the bottom (apprx. 10-15cm in diameter), so the holes on the laths of the lattice wall at the top are slightly more narrow than on the bottom
  • Froit's yurt business: building high-quality original mongolian yurts and import to Europe: 50% fun buyers, 25% touristic use, 25% "uncivilized" people

Later in the afternoon Mügül Andrews makes a presentation with a slideshow as well, going more into the details of artwork on clothing and tools of the nomadic cultures between Turkey and China.

May 10, 2009: Day 3

Peter Andrews gives another slideshow on yurts/gers, connection with past and present.

Near noon the official part of the conference ends.

The conference was held pretty informal with little schedule and other formal structure, which was in the sense to be spontaneous - on the other hand it created also confusion where and when someone made a presentation; open talk circle ended up in smaller groups after lunch or dinner.

Photo Gallery

Photos kindly provided by Maya Rosa, Paul Millard and Mügül Andrews.


I think we are at the emerge of a new culture, which follows up the industrial era; a culture which reconnects to Earth in the manner the native people did in the past.

Peter and Mügül Andrews presented the past, the nomadic culture which almost vanished, the cultural expression with artwork and details of the yurt/ger. Froit's approach is somehow to preserve the mongolian yurt/ger culture by sticking close to its original with small adaption to fit the european climate.

Nitsan and Lucy, also Peter ten Bookum and me were focused more on the spiritual aspects of the nomadic living, and I spent time with Peter to discuss these aspect in greater depth and details - the reconnection to Earth as part of nomadic living and using the yurt as tool to do so.

Melissa from Yurts of Hawai'i shared her experiences of working with local authorities to find solutions to adapt to building codes and make the yurt work for everyone on Hawaii, were natives/locals affected by the raising prices of housing and mortgage collapse of 2008/2009. Providing affordable shelter by using yurts. For me she represented the practical and immediate aspect of using yurts in the "here and now".

Bill Coperthwaite integrates the practical with the motivational and personal development of oneself, who used the yurt as a starting point.

The conference was a place to reflect on the past, the now, and the future - the practical, the cultural and the spiritual aspects, represented by its attending individuals, having one in common: the yurt as dwelling to provide shelter for people who like to live close to nature.

René K. Müller
May 2009



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