How could I put a tipi-like structure up in the air?
Sky Yurt structure
I began to make some models and do some rough drawings. I was influenced by Bucky Fuller who said that structures should have an integrity that didn’t depend on gravity. I think he called that “tensegrity”. If the house I live in now, a Greek Revival built in the 1860’s, were pushed off into space, the components would begin to come apart. A tensegrity structure would hold together, like a bicycle wheel. It wouldn’t depend on the forces of gravity.
Long ago I built an eight-sided model out of dowels, eye screws and wire. I was impressed with how stiff the structure was and how strong it it felt. I carried that model through all my life changes and moves. I hung it up in a prominent place in my office or living space so I wouldn’t forget the concept.
An amazingly strong structure
Strength testing the basic structure
The strength in the structure comes from the compression ring around the outside diameter – much like a yurt. I added the tension wire in the middle, but was sure that I wanted a design that would be completely open inside. I would need to create another way of tensioning the yurt.
Today, I went ahead and strength-tested the structure to see if it was really as strong as i imagined. Amazingly, it held my weight (200 lbs.). In the current prototype of the Sky Yurt the downward tension comes from fabric cover.
An open field, surrounded by trees. A small river just over the bank on one side of the field. Woods and mountains in the distance. Just after noon the first nomad arrives in a van with trailer in tow and begins to set up. Through the afternoon and into the early evening, nomads arrive. Each arriving nomad chats with his neighbors, sizes up the available space, and chooses a spot that feels right.
The village takes shape
Each shelter is unique and yet each is a variation on a common theme – a round, open, fabric structure with an awning like a sun umbrella – the workspace. And in the center, perched above the open tent, a round and private living space – yurt-like, dome-like or maybe free-form. The village grows organically as the nomads arrive. Some folks chose to cluster together, some prefer more distance and privacy and set up on the fringes of the village. The kids roam freely, checking out the new arrivals, and reporting back on what the river is like and the play spaces they have found in the bushes.
Where did this vision come from
In Vermont, I built my tipi from a pattern in the bible that John and I used – the Laubin’s book, The Indian Tipi – Its Structure and Use. As I hand stitched the canvas together – some of the seams were 50 feet long and I ended up with a knot in my back as big as my fist – I imagined the Sioux swinging into the meadows along the Little Big Horn, and setting up their tipis in an open circle with the hubbub and organic chaos of dogs, kids, horses and dust.
The Sioux tipis were private shelters. They were hunters and gatherers and were often out of village. They were horse powered, and couldn’t haul a lot of stuff. My nomads are makers, might be veggie-diesel powered. They need to bring their workspaces and materials with them. But like the Sioux, they will be on the move to where the grass is sweet and the “hunting” is good.