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Yaodong – Cave Dwellings on Loess Plateau

Feb 27, 2009

Living in Caves

In the prehistoric era our ancestors live in natural caves, during the long history of civilization, we learned how to build beautiful houses and buildings for us to live in. The designs are really diversified around the world according to people’s need, culture difference, local environment, and availability of material.

In the loess plateau of Shaanxi province in northwestern China, people are still living in caves, not natural caves. People built these cave dwellings – Yaodong.

Three different types of Yaodongs.

Slope/Hill type.
These yaodongs are built in the slope against a hill or valley. They could form several floors. The picture above is a famous hotel totally built in yaodongs. See how many caves and stories it has.

Sink type.
In the flat areas where no slope is available. People dig a big square hole first, then dig yaodongs in the walls of the hole to form a yard.

Stand-alone type.
They are not either dependent to a slope or in groud. First, stones or bricks are used to build the arch-shaped structure, and then soil is used to fill up the external space above the arches to make a thick and flat roof.

How good to live in these “caves”?

1. Little building material is needed.
In the loess plateau, either wood or rock are pretty rare for house building. So people build in the loess earth itself.inside.jpg

2. Green.
“Warm in winter; Cool in Summer.”  The thick earth separates the indoor space and outdoor, serves as an effective insulator that keeps the inside of a yaodong warm in cold seasons and cool in hot seasons. Consequently, very little heating is required in winter, and in summer, it is as cool as an air-conditioned room. It is a very good example for sustainable lifestyle for modern architecture design.

1. Fragile to earthquake or geology instability (landslides, etc.). In a earthquake, being in a cave is extremely vital.

2. Lighting. With only one side possible for a window, Lighting is not very good. People might feel depressed.

More Yaodong examples:


ganzi.jpg1. Most famous Yaodong:  These yaodongs are the ones where Chairman Mao lived and led CCP in WWII.

2. Yaodong landscape in Ganzi, Qinghai. To build the first airport on Tibetan plateau, poeple built these massive temporary yaodongs.

The Future of Yaodong

Today, the young generation in those areas has got used to live in apartments in the cities. They don’t like the yaodongs any more. As a unique housing style, yaodong might disappear in the future.

[Chinese Keywords]
民居 窑洞

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