Around the World in Five Houses (4)


From freezing icy, to melting sandy environments, humans inhabit most of the terrestrial spots on Earth. The diversity of climatic conditions and naturally-available resources has allowed unique lifestyles to flourish across the world. One aspect of this human legacy is vernacular architecture; the common domestic architecture of a specific region. Vernacular architecture is best reflected in houses that are tailored to address the local community needs and depend on the available construction materials. Let us take a tour around the world to examine some examples of these seemingly simple, yet science‐based, houses.

Chinese Forts

In China, several forms of vernacular architecture flourished across the centuries; many remain to this day. An interesting example is the Hakka* people’s dwelling known as the tulou; although wars would typically destroy architecture, fortified tulou houses have evolved from war. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Hakka people were confronted with armed warfare for local resources. Consequently, they constructed massive round and squared houses to stave off intruders, forming amazing self-sustaining micro-communities.

Tulou walls were constructed about one‐and a‐half meters thick, and three to four storeys high; the whole construction had one entrance with a bolted door, and no windows on the ground level. The ground floor was usually used for storing weapons, whereas the second was used for storing food and grain, and the third and fourth floors were inhabited. These historical buildings are still inhabited until today.

Tulous were mainly built of the commonly found rammed earth, which consisted of raw material, including earth, chalk, lime, and gravel. Rammed earth provided the needed protection during wars, because it is non-combustible, strong, and durable. It is also thermally massive, which enables the dwelling to store heat and provide inertia against temperature fluctuations. One tulou averagely housed 20 families with about 100 people; larger ones housed up 80 families. Tulous also contained permanent water sources and had sophisticated sewage systems, which made them self-sufficient for long periods of time.

Last but not least, it is time to mention the one big home that shelters us all; planet Earth. It is Earth that provides all cultures with clean and reliable building materials, helping us adapt to surrounding conditions. It embraces all human races and cultures, inviting us all to unite, celebrate our differences, and preserve our unique traditions.


*The Hakka are originally North Chinese who migrated to South China during the fall of the Song Dynasty in 1270.

**Read "Around the World in Five Houses” 1, 2, and 3.

***The original article was published in SCIplanet, Science at Home (Winter 2018) issue.

About Us

SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
Continue reading

Contact Us

P.O. Box 138, Chatby 21526, Alexandria, EGYPT
Tel.: +(203) 4839999
Ext.: 1737–1781

Become a member

© 2024 | Bibliotheca Alexandrina