Throughout history, people have fabricated shelters that fit their surroundings. With a universal set of criteria in mind—including access to tools, availability of materials, and type of climate—individuals from all over the world constantly reinterpret, reimagine, and redefine the concept of home.
To many of us, a home is a four-walled fixture on a permanent foundation. But to others, it is a snowy sanctuary, a hidden cave, or even a floating boat. Here, we explore these different types of houses in order to understand how and why such a wide range of shelters exist across the globe.
Let’s take a tour of different types of houses around the world.
Cave Homes (Matmata, Tunisia)In Matmata, Tunisia, cave homes—ancient abodes that have been carved out of sandstone—keep people comfortable all year long. Situated around a central pit and connected by a network of passageways, these one-of-a-kind properties provide protection from the North African sun and desert winds.
Today, many cave homes in locations around the world have been turned into unique cave hotels.
Rondavels/Round Homes (Lesotho, South Africa)In South Africa, rondavels—rounded, single-cell huts—are favored for their ability to be built from natural, locally sourced materials. Like igloos, rondavels were traditionally used as temporary hunting lodgings.
Today, round houses are built and bought by people interested in saving both space and energy.
Stilt Houses (Cambodia, Southeast Asia)
In Southeast Asia, where heavy rain is prevalent, you can find communities of stilt houses. These homes are raised up on planks in order to protect its inhabitants and their possessions from flooding. They’re also designed to sit just high enough to keep safe from invading vermin—namely, snakes and insects. Additionally, their roofs are sloped, in order to allow rainwater to easily stream down without damaging the property.
Though they’re primarily built in Southeast Asia today, stilt houses are also present in the western hemisphere where homes are faced with hurricane damage. This type of house is thought to have first be used (in the west) by indigenous tribes of the Americas.
Yurts (Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia)Yurts—portable tents traditionally composed of animal skins—have been used by Central Asian nomads for centuries. While, in the past, these structures were intended as temporary shelters, contemporary construction methods and access to new materials have allowed them to be used as permanent housing.
Underground Houses (Coober Pedy, Australia)In addition to being the “opal capital of the world,” Coober Pedy, a South Australian town, is renowned for its “dugouts,” special shelters built beneath the Earth’s surface.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, these unique underground homes act as an oasis from the outback’s heat (summer temperatures can reach a sweltering 113 degrees Fahrenheit) and occasional dust storms. For this reason, half of the town’s residents—as well as a museum, a church, and even a hotel—have opted for this underground lifestyle.
Igloos (Baffin Island, Canada)Though not as prevalent as they once were, igloos are used by outdoors enthusiasts as temporary shelters. Skillfully constructed out of insulating, compressed snow, the icy accommodations keep dwellers warm by blocking harsh winds and housing a small fire.
Today, igloos—which are deeply connected to Inuit history and culture—can be found in Baffin Island, Canada, and other snowy, North American locations.
“Honai” homes (Indonesia)
Honai is the traditional house of the mountainous community in central Papua, Indonesia. The main, rounded body of the simple abodes are hand-built from wooden planks, the thatched roofs are made from palm leaves, and the interior walls are insulated with woven bamboo. A typical honai home is approximately 4-6 meters in diameter and 5-7 meters in height. Despite their small size, they are usually occupied by 5-10 people.
Hanok houses (Korea)
A hanok is a traditional Korean house that originates from the 14th century during the Joseon Dynasty. Culturally, architects would have considered positioning and style of the house in relation to its surroundings, the land, and even the seasons. The ideal hanok house is built with a mountain in the back and a river in the front.
Built from locally-sourced materials, they consist of tiled roofs, wooden beams, and flooring built in the Ondol style, allowing the floors to be heated by smoke during winter and cooled in the summer. One of the most distinguishing features of the hanok home is the slightly curved roof line, sometimes revealing ornate designs on the underside.