The Canadian Shield looks nothing like the Mongolian tundra except for one curiously common feature: the presence of yurts. A yurt is a portable quasi-conical dwelling framed in wood, covered by layers of fabric and other insulating material, and held together by ropes. Traditionally used by nomadic peoples of Central Asia, authentic yurts are now widely distributed in Canada by an enterprising Quebec company, Groovy Yurts, which markets them as a cool alternative to small cottages, annex buildings, art and yoga studios, and even standard homes.
Now, if you’ve never lived in a yurt and decide to move into one, you’ll find that two of its most distinctive architectural characteristics will require a good deal of adaptation. The first is lack of privacy—a result of the absence of doors and rooms inside them. The second is limited light—a consequence of the absence of windows. There is generally only one skylight in these structures; an opening which casts natural luminosity straight down from the ceiling.
Stuart stood up from his bed, tossed on his winter coat, and laced up his boots. As he did so, I took another glance at the glow and shadows cast by his off-grid yurt’s skylight. It was a radiant spring morning and the snowy meadow around us reflected brightly into the air the glare from the sun. Even on an overcast day there would have been enough natural light inside—at least during the daytime—to read, cook, or do domestic chores, but the comparative contrast with the amount and type of artificial lighting ideal for a Martha Stewart-like home was still sharp. Many houses nowadays tend to be furnished with task-specific lighting so that different areas feature differently bright tools (e.g., neon, iridescent bulbs, compact-fluorescent bulbs, windows), different illumination angles (e.g., ceiling-mounted, wall-mounted, table-top), and different intensities and textures of brilliance (e.g., bright, dim, cold, warm). Here there was only one source of weather-dependent natural light, and one artificial source of light powered by a gasoline generator.