From time to time over the past few years there have arisen calls-for-ideas that will solve a housing shortage in parts of the world quite remote from those of us lucky enough not to really understand the need.
On occasions the calls have gone out when some climatic turbulence decimates swathes of a remote community, or otherwise when some previously unreported inhuman condition has spurred our collective guilt into action.
And always, and particularly among our architectural schools* and the practices with a true social conscience, the response is sincere and resolute competition to design a readily deliverable quick fix, with a palette of lightweight materials that are deemed pertinent for short-term use in unknown climates, and a structure that requires little skill to create and even fewer tools.
Much earnest head scratching can be seen in the studios of the participants. There is a world to be saved from the climatic and economic ravages that our western lifestyle seeks to make worse, and the collective minds of well-trained architects and engineers are indisputably the crucible in which results will ferment and come forth.
So, far away from all that solemnity, it is a joy to be entertained by Galaa and Oyunaa’s family in Mongolia who, along with half a million not very near neighbours, come together four times a year to re-construct just such a device with good cheer and the nimble dexterity of a close knit group. And on this occasion, because they enjoy it and are proud, they build it up and take it down just for me.
And this is no highfalutin architectural response. This is the Ger, a home that has been refined in detail and ritual over many millennia; made of materials that come to hand organically and that can be unrolled and tied together; that encompasses a reverential space with strict customs of circulation and heart/hearth; that stays cool in the +30deg summers and warm in the -40deg winters; that can be readily transported; that employs the principles of natural air-circulation and -insulation; that is waterproofed by the effect of heat on felt and made taught against the wind by a single rope; that while circular, always faces the same way, door towards the midday sun; that is kitchen, living room, bedroom in a single, womb-like space. It is the focus of fine singing, dexterous games, flowing mares milk vodka and common purpose.
This is no temporary measure, no short term fix, this is the consequence and harbour of a fervently defended nomadic lifestyle, where house and livestock and clothing are made of the same things, each moving from place to place to allow the land to refresh, the climatic response to be finessed and its benefits to be harnessed year on year. This is environmental, social and economic sustainability at its most pure.
*and, if doing these things is of interest, look no further than Paraguay….