Tag Archives: workspace

Working on the Ground – Living in the Sky

First concepts

Sky Yurt drawing #1

Sky Yurt drawing #1

I started making very rough sketches years ago. I wanted an open, circular, covered workspace on ground-level. The living space needed to be elevated, so you could almost walk underneath it, or at least see through it. I flattened out the tall tipi shape to make it more like a diamond, like in my early dowel and wire model. I decided the yurt would set on vertical uprights, doubled under each set of beams. The workspace tent structure would then radiate out from the eight-sided elevated yurt-like living space. The fabric cover on the workspace would need to be adjustable, so one side could be tucked down to block the wind, while the opposite side might want to be open wide and high to let in the warm early morning sun..

First models

Sky Yurt Concept #2

Sky Yurt Concept #2

I made a painstaking model out of dimensional balsa wood -held together with pins and light wire. That got lost in the shuffle over the years. The next model used clear straws for beams and joists, pipe cleaners at the outer ends of the beams, and cardboard and hot glue for the center hubs. I really liked the look of the design but some real concerns began to emerge.

I was still stuck on using vertical posts to hold the yurt off the ground. The whole structure was looking less like a tension structure. Those posts were going to need to be heavy and I was thinking that the whole structure was going to need to be pretty beefy to match it. And hell, this needed to be nomadic – meaning light and strong.

I ain’t no designer

You need to know as I walk you through this process, if you haven’t figured it out already, that my skills as a designer are severely limited. I can’t draw worth a hill of beans. I am dyslexic and have trouble with sequencing. I can get an idea, walk around thinking about it almost all the time – but I have to build the damn thing so I can begin to figure out if my “design” idea will really work. My neighbor Bruce, who has watch my “follies” emerge in the backyard laughed the other day, “I have heard of design/build, but I think what you do is build/design”. And he hit the nail on the head. That my process – build/design. It ain’t pretty, won’t work for a brick and mortar house, but with my Sky Yurt, I can take it apart, fix what doesn’t work and give it another shot.


The vision – a shapeshifting village of nomadic artists and crafters

 The vision

Sioux village

Sioux village

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.

Nomads all

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.