Yaodong (Loess Cave House)

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A Yaodong is a common type of dwelling in the Loess Plateau. Its history stretches back more than 4,500 years. Nowadays, there are still more than 40 million people living in this kind of residence. There are three types of Yaodong: loess cliff rooms, hole-courtyards and “updated” brick rooms.

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The loess cliff rooms are made by digging into the loess cliff directly. The hole-courtyard is made by excavating a large hole to form a courtyard below ground level, and then digging into the sides of the courtyard to form rooms around “the wall” of the interior yard. The updated version of the cave house is constructed using stones and bricks, and then has its roof covered in loess. There are also some cave rooms that have been dug into the loess cliff, and then strengthened with stones and bricks.

The single room that is dug into the loess cliff or the hole-courtyard is generally 7 to 8 metres long, around 3 metres wide, and 3 to 4 metres high. The updated stone or brick houses can be made larger.

[Outside the cave dwelling there is usually a small courtyard enclosed with a mud wall. They could be joined with stone cave dwellings to form large courtyard houses.]

yaodong03Thanks to the natural loess cliff, it does not cost too much for a family to make a home in this region. This is the biggest advantage of building and living in a Yaodong. Not to mention that a Yaodong is a naturally air-conditioned room, since it is cool in the summer and warm in the winter without the need of an air-conditioner or a central heating system. In spite of its appearance, there is no risk of the hole-courtyard flooding due to heavy rain. It would not be the Loess Plateau if it rained frequently. Although externally the Yaodong houses look simple and even poverty-stricken, the families that live in them always try to make the interior look beautiful. They make various lattice windows and put paper-cuttings onto the windows to decorate their homes.

However, a Yaodong also has several shortcomings, the most serious of which is that a Yaodong is not strong enough to resist an earthquake. With the economy developing in the Loess Plateau, eventually Yaodong will disappear altogether. Nowadays there are fewer and fewer loess cliff rooms, as people prefer to build the more updated brick and stone houses instead.


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