Dwellings of the
1.C4T1 2.C4T2 3.C4T3
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4. Marsabit district in Kenya: nomadic dwellings constructed from animal skins.

Different types of dwellings in the drylands

In the majority of drylands, masons and architects have developed a know-how that allows them to utilize local resources in a sustainable way while providing comfort. The dryland dwelling must meet the constraints imposed by the climate.
For instance, by preventing a rise in room temperature during the day while conserving heat at night, the occupants are assured a certain comfort. Other considerations include wind and dust resistance.
Two distinct dwelling types exist depending on whether sedentary or nomadic lifestyles are practiced. In some cases, both can be observed within the same population, for example, the Tuaregs Ajjer of central Sahara live under canvas during certain periods and in stone huts with thatched roofs at other times.

Six major categories of dwellings can be observed:

The urban dwelling
The urban dwelling, in sculpted stone or earth (toub, pisé), is generally made up of small clusters of huts. Due to irregular rainfall, the terraced roof is often preferred, providing additional space for drying certain products (fruits, grains) and for its ventilation. In certain regions, it is possible to find windmills that help facilitate the circulation of air to provide natural ventilation. Dwellings made of earth ie. rammed earth or clay for walls or floors as with pisé, are ill adapted to the torrential rains, which can destroy entire villages.

Oasis dwelling
Scattered throughout the oasis, thereby facilitating access to work and the surveillance of possessions, the oasis dwelling is more commonly found in Northern Africa and the Middle East.
The dwellings are most frequently of the patio type. Rather small rooms surround the courtyard that is both a space for recreation and a work area, so as to perform such tasks as weaving. The rooms shelter both the family unit and domestic animals.

5. Cappadoce in Turkey: underground dwellings or troglodytics.
Michel Le Berre

6. Algerian Sahara: a mobile home, a family tent of the Tuaregs.
© Michel Le Berre

The domed roof dwelling
This type of dwelling is more commonly found in the Sahara and the Middle East.
The dome is made by assembling toub or stone bricks, reducing the use of wood that is particularly slow growing in the drylands. The dwellings’ spiral form plays an important role in their ventilation by increasing air volume while minimising the surface area exposed to the sun. It is possible to amplify this effect by rough-casting the outer wall that reflects light while keeping the inner wall free of casing. Warm air rises and escapes to the outside due to the porous nature of the walls.

The underground dwelling
In the quest for lower temperatures, some sedentary populations have been driven to move into caves or dug outs carved from the earth. In this way, they benefit from the insulating effect of the earth that guarantees homogenous temperatures throughout the year (See the case study from Italy).
The troglodytic dwelling existed in China and Turkey thousands of years ago.

Tents and yourts
Characteristic of nomadic dwellings, tents are generally textile-based constructions. Depending on the region, they may be made of woven fabric, wool or goat’s fur, as with tents found in the Middle East or made with felt or animal skins, typically used in Central Asia. Tents and yourts are stable, solid dwellings that are easy to set up with each move or relocation. Their heavy weight necessitates the use of powerful traction animals such as camels and dromedaries.
For populations living in tents, the herd is not surprisingly the primary source of fuel as well as raw materials for the dwelling.

Zareba and leafy shelters
Of diverse forms, pleated or boarded, the fragile constructions made of vegetation can be found throughout most of the world’s drylands. It may comprise a principal dwelling for one of the transhumance sites or an additional volume close to the solid construction. In certain regions, these matted constructions are easily taken apart and can be easily relocated with each settlement. An intermediate dwelling between a tent and a hut is thus obtained.



In your notebook, draw
and colour examples of traditional houses in your village/town that are adapted to combat heat and drought conditions.

Explain how these adaptations improve the comfort for the habitants.


Draw on a piece of paper a dwelling that you would like
to live in and paste it to your notebook.

Explain the reasons behind your choice.

What clever tricks are used
in your house to combat heat, wind and dust?

Describe them to your classmates and compare them, maybe certain adaptations can be used in your home.


Underline the following correct phrases:

In the drylands, traditional dwellings include:

• builidings with several floors (levels).
• low level buildings made from sculpted stone or earth.
• tents and yourts.
• igloos.
• houses with swimming pools.
• zarebas and other leafy shelters.
• shelters made from metal sheets.


Construct models of houses made from cardboard, straw or clay?

Which house is more resistant to rain? Which house is more wind resistant?

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