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How to Build a Tibetan House

Yes, You Can Build a Home Fit for the Dali Lama, but is a Tibetan House Right for You?

Tibet has an Ancient and Compelling Style of Architecture Unlike that of Any Other Place.

First, you might be wondering how a discussion about Tibetan houses might be relevant to a website that is dedicated to earthen architecture. In answer, one traditional Tibetan way of building with natural material might be a good option for people living in certain areas.

When someone says ” Tibetan Architecture,” it is important to remember that the name “Tibet” describes a huge geographical area with a fair amount of diversity in linguistics, climate, and building practices. For example, in the Eastern parts of Tibet the local architecture is typically made almost exclusively from wood, and this is the case because the local area is blessed with thick pine forests.  Not surprisingly, in place where wood is plentiful earthen architecture is typically not very popular. Earthen architecture is not very popular in places with a lot of available wood because wood is relatively easy to work with and it has a nice aesthetic.

Map of Tibet 2

Map of Tibet above furnished courtesy of researchgate.net

Regions of Tibet

Map of Tibet’s regions courtesy of tibetecotravel.com

Easter Tibet

The photo above shows a village in the eastern portion of Tibet. Image courtesy of tibetexperiecen.com

Eastern Tibet

The image above shows a traditional wooden Tibetan house in the eastern region of Tibet. Notice how this house is reminiscent of traditional Swiss houses or North American log cabins. Image courtesy of artsandculture.google.com

Daofu

The image above shows traditional “Daofu” wooden homes that are a fixture of the southeastern reaches of greater Tibet. Image courtesy of tibetpedia.com

Tibetan Wood House

The photo posted above shows a “Daofu” style of Tibetan wooden house under construction in the western highlands of the Sichuan province. Image courtesy of tibettravle.org

xinhua.com

The image posted above shows a wooden Tibetan “daofu” house under construction in the southeastern portion of greater Tibet. Image courtesy of xinhua.con

Earthen architecture is also a lot less popular in places that get very cold winters, and this is the case because earthen walls are great at storing heat from the day and then releasing this heat at night, and then keeping the cool temperatures from the night and providing a cool interiors during the heat of the day. In other words, building with earthen architecture is a great way to do things in desert areas where there is a pronounced shift in temperatures between the night and the day, but in places with prolonged cold weather,  the earthen walls of a building will just get very cold and stay that way, so earthen building tend to be very cold when the weather outside is cold. People who have build cob cottages in the American Midwest have often said that their cute little abodes were totally uninhabitable in the winter months because there was effectively no way to heat their homes during the cold local winters.

The region of Greater Tibet is land-locked and all of the region sits at a high altitude, so Tibet is know for having long and cold winters. Given the long and cold winters of the Tibetan Plateau, it comes as no surprise that the insulating qualities of wood make this material the building supply of choice when it is available. So, if wood is the building material of choice when it is available, then why would Tibetans build with anything else? The answer to that quest is that in many parts of Tibet there is a true shortage of wood, so the local people are forced to build their homes from different materials and to find some material to burn other than wood.

It comes as no surprise that in the parts of greater Tibet that have a pronounced shortage of wood, there are houses and buildings made from earthen building materials. The traditional Tibetan method of building with earthen materials is to use field stones from the local area and then cement them together with an adobe mud instead of lime mortar.

So, it begs the question, if wood is in short supply in general in the southwestern parts of Tibet, and building with earthen materials is a necessity, then why not just build with mud bricks or cob? The answer to that question is that the Tibetans have a long history of building all sorts of structures from mud bricks, but mud brick structures simply do not withstand the wind and the freezing temperatures of the winter months nearly as well as the unique building style that Tibetans have developed on their own.

The problem with mud bricks structures is that they tend to crack over time due to the expanding and contracting brought about by exposure to extreme cold weather. Another factor against the Tibetans using mud bricks is the fact that continual harsh winds tend to erode mud brick walls over time, and the southern parts of Tibet are often hammered for long periods of time by unending strong winds. The Tibetans do consider mud brick walls to have a bit better insulative value than stone walls, but mud brick walls simply do not last as long as structures made from stones and mud mortar.

The Dry Parts of Tibet

The U-Tsang region of Tibet is generally dry and rests at high altitudes; however, this region is not totally devoid of trees or wood, but wood is in short supply. Most of the population of the U-Tsang region of Tibet live in small valleys with running streams, barley fields, and clusters of traditonal Tibetan stone and earthen mortar houses. Image courtesy of tropicsails.com.

The image above shows a village that rests in a high-elevation mountain valley in the U-Tsang region of Tibet. 

The image posted above depicts another small village in a high mountain valley in an arid and mountainous part of Tibet. Image courtesy of conscoiusjourney.org

The image above shows a tradition Tibetan village with traditional stone houses. Image courtesy of buzzntravel.com

Tibetan House 1

The building shown above is a traditional household from the southern region of Greater Tibet. The building pictured above shows a building made from stone and adobe mud mortar. Image courtesy of freestockimages.com

The photo above shows a traditional Tibetan village stone house. Image courtesy of silkroadkills.com

The image above shows a traditional stone village house in southwestern Tibet. Image courtesy of easytourchina.wordpress.com

The image seen above shows how traditional Tibetan houses are made from locally gathered field stones and adobe mortar. Image courtesy of Ian Cowe’s account on Flickr.

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