A Mongolian-style yurt is a unique and sustainable addition to UBC Farm
While universities around the world usually focus on building state-of-the-art laboratories, the latest structure to be erected at UBC’s Vancouver campus opts instead to draw inspiration from ancient nomads.
A 65-square-metre yurt–a circular, semi-permanent tent-like structure common to Mongolia and other parts of Central Asia–now sits on the grounds of the UBC Farm. A rare sight at a university, not to mention an urban setting, the centuries-old design of these collapsible bent wood structures is simple, smart and sustainable.
UBC Farm will use the yurt for courses, children’s programs, community workshops, as well as events and lectures. One program that will use the yurt frequently is the Culturally Relevant Urban Wellness Program. CRUW pairs at-risk Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth with elders to learn how to grow food and medicine plants.
Plans and fundraising for the yurt began in 2010 after Farm activities began to outgrow existing facilities.
“We were bursting at the seams with our programming and our current facilities couldn’t keep up with the growth that we were seeing,” says Director Amy Frye. “Building a yurt seemed like a sustainable solution.”
Video: A time-lapse video of the yurt going up at UBC Farm
How yurts work
Yurts consist of a circular latticework frame wrapped with fabric and covered by a domed roof. They are easy to assemble and transport while also sturdier than a typical tent.
Derreck Travis, a recent graduate in UBC’s Master of Architecture program who has studied yurts, says the structures are sustainable because “they are constructed or deconstructed in hours, and require no foundation or alterations to the ground.”
He adds the materials used to build them can be completely natural, from cotton coverings to wooden floors to wool insulation.
The yurt at the farm was purchased from Pacific Yurts, an Oregon-based company, and features lattice circular walls and structural grade rafters made of Douglas fir.
Yurts first started popping up in North America in the late 1960s, and have become more popular in recent years. Their historical significance, however, dates back much further.
“Yurts have been the primary form of housing in Central Asia for centuries, even before the arrival of Genghis Khan,” says Julian Dierkes, a sociologist and expert on Mongolia at UBC’s Institute of Asian Research. “These ancient dwellings remain hugely significant in the region.”
In addition to nomadic Mongolians, nearly a half-million people who live outside the capital of Ulaanbaatar still live in yurts, Dierkes adds.
As for the yurt at UBC Farm, Frye says it’s the first step towards greater expansion.
“We hope to see even more infrastructure go up in the next couple of years that’s as unique and useful as the yurt is already proving to be.”