Feature Article - July 2020
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Flexible Building Solutions

Nonconventional Structures Expand Your Possibilities

By Dave Ramont


Different Destinations

Our next nonconventional structure is an adaptation of dwellings that were used by Central Asian nomads centuries ago. Yurts were large, circular tents made of wool felt stretched over a wooden frame. Alan Bair is president of a Cottage Grove, Ore.-based company manufacturing yurts since 1978, and using modern materials and technology, they've redesigned the traditional structure. Architectural-grade fabrics that are impervious to moisture are used instead of felt and animal skin coverings, and willow pole rafters have been replaced by kiln-dried Douglas fir from sustainably-managed forests.

Parks, campgrounds and resorts are places you might encounter yurts today, as they're often offered as lodging. Bair pointed out that people love how they combine the experiences of tent camping and cabin life. "When you go into that circular space there's a feeling of being close to nature; you can hear the rain on the roof and see the sky through the central dome, while remaining cozy inside. Just from a lodging perspective, when offered as either simple retreats or luxury accommodations, they provide a unique experience that guests love and return to again and again."

Yurts can be purchased as a no-frills structure or with a wide range of custom features, and Bair said that many destinations are offering upgrades. "While many parks and resorts offer yurts as simple retreats, we've seen a large shift toward larger, luxury 'glamping' accommodations complete with interior bathrooms, kitchenettes and full amenities including heating and cooling systems."

Operable dome skylights and windows allow fresh air, and ceiling fans, floor vents, through-wall AC units and screen doors are all options. For heat, customers have used wood stoves, propane stoves, pellet stoves, electric heaters and radiant floor heating. Ductwork can be installed under the floor and electricity and plumbing can come through the floor. Lofts or interior partition walls can be added, and each yurt has a solid door with residential lockset and the option to add a deadbolt.

Wood rafters lead upward into the central dome creating an open, spacious feeling with an abundance of natural light during the day, according to Bair. "At night one can stargaze from the comfort of bed. We also offer an optional 'solar arc' of translucent fabric for yurts located in heavily shaded locations where even more natural light is desired."

The company also engineered snow and wind kit upgrades, with their largest structure able to withstand snow loads up to 100 pounds per square foot and wind up to 142 mph. This makes them ideal for ski areas, where they're used as warming huts, overnight lodging and rental facilities. Some ski resorts have expanded their offerings by adding yurt-to-yurt skiing, dogsledding and snow-shoeing.

The Oregon State Park system purchased two yurts from Bair's company in 1994, looking for a way to fill empty campsites in fall and winter. They were an instant hit, and now there are nearly 200 yurts across the park system, with parks in more than 30 other states offering them as well. Additionally, business enterprises and nonprofit organizations are using them to maximize their revenue or extend their housing budgets.

Bair said their uses are limited only by the imagination. "Many parks and resorts now use them not just for year-round lodging but also for conference and meeting halls, recreation centers, meditation/fitness rooms and multi-use special event spaces. We even see them used for retail sales and ski rental shops, and for workshops, training facilities and more."

Sometimes municipalities, parks departments and private businesses and facilities need to look beyond traditional brick-and-mortar buildings to help them expand their programming and find new and innovative ways to generate revenue, while keeping their expenses and budgets down. Therefore, individuals and companies will stay busy at the drawing board, coming up with the next nonconventional structure. RM