Indigenous Shelter & Eco-design

The healing, creative, communal and spiritual nature of circular housing is broadly recognized amongst the Earth’s tribal people.

If you walk into any room that has a circular design, how do you feel? Do you feel more peaceful? Why do people dream more when they live in a round dwelling? Why are the oldest forms of indigenous shelter still being built today? At this location, we’ll be looking at why the circle is an eco - design.



The Nature of Circles - tipis, igloos, yurts and more...

Have you ever wondered why many of our indigenous people build dwellings that are round and curved? From Native American tipis to Inuit igloos, Aboriginal humpies and the Central Asian yurts made by the Nomads. All of these wonderful structures have stood the test of nature and time because they are built with the understanding that nature works in cycles and circles.

So, what are the forces of nature? Well, let’s first consider the basic elements of soil, air, water and fire. To many indigenous people, they understood that the four elements interact to form the physical world in which we live. In water alone, we see the power of the oceans, rivers, ice and rain. Evaporate water and we get air, which gets heated or cooled to create wind. Whatever the process, the forces on Earth work in cycles and circles, which is why our indigenous shelters incorporated the circle with everything they did. Let’s consider some of the practical benefits of circular homes.

Inside: Air-flow for Heating & Cooling

Air flows more efficiently in circular rooms. Have you noticed that the tipi, igloo, humpy and yurt all have a peaked roof which creates a natural up-draft due to the differences in hot and cold air pressure. This helps to further circulate air naturally and vent hot air or smoke from heaters. Let’s also consider how much more efficiently light can be spread around a circular room compared to a square room. This again requires less energy.

Outside: shape for strength

The shape of a home is often equally as important as the materials and insulation used. Think about water and air flow and how it reacts to different objects placed in its path. The more rounded and curved an object is, the less stress it endures from external forces. In order to survive the extreme forces of nature, indigenous people had to make shelters which wouldn’t collapse when the going got tough.

Did You Know

The word Tipi comes from the Lakota, Native American language which has several interpretations ranging from: ‘to dwell’ or ‘they dwell’, which in practice means ‘house’.

The Igloo, translated sometimes as snow-house, is the Inuit word for house or home. When referring to a snow-house, igloos are shelters constructed from snow or ice, generally in the form of a dome.

Snow was used because the air pockets trapped in it make it an insulator. On the outside, temperatures may be as low as - 45 degrees Celcius but on the inside the temperatures may range from 7 to 16 degrees Celcius when warmed by body heat alone.

P. 40

The Birds and the Bees

Let’s take a closer look at the many wonderful homes created in the natural world, such as nests, hives, burrows, caves, mounds and shells. All these amazing structures incorporate circles or geometric shapes in various ways, which work perfectly to tackle the needs of the maker to the demands of nature. Our animal and insect worlds teach us a lot about the relationship between function and form. Each type of dwelling carries it’s own unique qualities to ensure it is practical, efficient and effective to sustain life. Qualities of strength, lightness, heating and cooling, protection, comfort and the all important ability to blend in with the surroundings to avoid unwanted visitors. It’s no wonder that our many indigenous people of the world looked to our animal and insect friends to reveal the essential qualities of a functional home.

The Golden Proportion

It’s amazing to think that many things found in nature have shapes that work to the same ratios. The ratio is termed the Golden Proportion and for thousands of years it has inspired artists, architects, botanist, musicians, biologists, astronomers and physicists. The golden ratio = 1.61803399

The shapes that we have seen

in nature since time began are now being repeated in the dwellings of the future. The natural world displays an intelligent design which we can find everywhere. Look below at some of the most advanced structures built today. Do you notice a similarity? See page 62 for more!

The Facts

The Spiral

Whether it’s a seashell, our Milky Way galaxy, a cyclone or a pinecone, all these amazing works of nature contain the same design principles contained in the spiral.

QUIZ 7: Indigenous Shelter & Eco-design

Nearly half of all the resources on our planet are used for the bulding industry. This includes houses, factories and sky scrapers. With resources running out and wild weather on the increase, we have to get smarter and choose new ways to make our homes more efficient, stronger and less expensive. The answer is all around us, hidden in nature. Here’s your next quiz! Remember, most of the answers can be found in the previous section but some questions may require you to dig deeper. So, consider the internet, go to the library or ask a friend.

1. What type of dwellings do you know which have round or curved structures?

2. List 3 benefits of having a round or curved dwelling.

3. List 3 materials which ancient cultures used to construct their dwelling.

4. Where does the word tipi come from?

5. What are some animals or insects which use round or curved homes?

6. What are some of the things they are made of?

7. What are some of the qualities that you want to have in a good house?

8. Why is it that round or circular houses are more efficient?

9. Class activity: The Golden Proportion is a ratio found in many natural things - can you find a sea shell or pine cone or even find a picture which can demonstrate this ratio?

10. Why do you think the Golden Proportion ratio exists in many things found in nature?

11. Describe the type of houses you think will be in the future.

12. Can you draw a picture of what a futuristic community or city would look like in 50 years? Keep it in a safe place, so you can look at it when your older and see how close you were.