Ukrainian Eco-Homes Inspired by Folk Tradition

By Alina Maslakova
Alina Maslakova
Alina Maslakova
August 22, 2012 Updated: August 27, 2012
Epoch Times Photo
A traditional Ukrainian straw-roof house. (Volodymyr Borodin/The Epoch Times)

KYIV, Ukraine—In previous centuries in Ukraine, it was said that during his life, a man must raise a son, plant a tree, and build a house. But time passes, and folk wisdom gives way to modern realities. 

Planting a tree is still rather easy, and though difficult, bringing up a son is often done. But fewer people in this modern world build a house with their own hands. 

In Ukraine, however, the convention is not altogether lost. In villages, people continued to build traditional houses into the 20th century, so old ways have been preserved. 

Moreover, there is currently a self-homebuilding trend that draws on traditional techniques of different ethnic groups to build contemporary eco-homes.

Folk Beliefs

Although varied, different ethnicities in Ukraine had one thing in common—their homes were eco-friendly. They shared the understanding of living in harmony with the surrounding environment. 

Architect Volodymyr Korol explains the beliefs behind traditional construction methods in his book, “Architecture and Housing Design.”

“Ukrainians perceived homes as a living organism, which, if it was not treated properly, could harm his owner,” writes Korol.

There were clear rules that determined where to place a building. For example, Ukrainians didn’t build their houses on former roads, floodplains, or in the course of dried riverbeds.

They also tested the energies of the place where they would build by placing some rye at key places in future house: the cornerstone, fireplace, in front of the hearth, and where the bed would sit. 

If the rye became black before sunrise, the site was considered bad. If the grain remained intact, the site was favorable. “A very good location was considered to be a place where the cattle stopped to rest,” writes Korol.

Modern-Traditional

Folk dwellings in different regions of Ukraine have their own characteristics in terms of materials and techniques. People engaged in eco-construction in Ukraine are mainly turning to two types of Ukrainian traditional buildings: wattle and daub homes and adobe houses. 

Wattle and daub houses are buildings with a wooden frame filled with a clay mixture, with walls whitened on both sides. Adobe buildings were made of sundried bricks of mud and straw. Such houses stay cool in summer, and warm in winter.

Vitaly Fasolya, an eco-builder who heads the Toloka Info project, a nonprofit resource for environmental home construction, says that traditional building technologies are now often combined with more advanced modern techniques. 

For example, hollow walls are filled with straw bales, although traditionally, Ukrainians never had balers, says Fasolya. In such buildings straw bales are laid within the exterior and interior walls, which are constructed out of sun-dried adobe blocks.

Epoch Times Photo
Andriy Konyuk builds his eco-home with straw filled walls, in the Poltava region of Ukraine. (Courtesy of Vitaly Fasolya/Toloka.info)

A concrete base or screw piles may be used for the foundation and roofs that were once straw, are now usually made of tile, slate, or other modern materials.

Modern engineering systems, solar collectors, recuperators in the ventilation systems, solar panels, and modern heating technologies are also combined with traditional techniques. 

Fasolya said as environment concerns become more pressing, the building trend is expanding.

“There are not many people, who erect such eco-houses in Ukraine, but every year their numbers are growing. They are either wealthy people living a healthy lifestyle, or innovators by nature, who are often interested in various spiritual practices,” says Fasolya.

Fasolya says other types of people are also getting involved, and involving in turn, the people around them. 

“There are less well-off people like office workers, urban residents, farmers, who also share the modern ideological beliefs—they are interested in health, ecology, and personal growth. They build these houses by themselves, engaging their family members, friends, and acquaintances in the process,” says Fasolya.

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