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Traditional homes

Treehouse of the Korowai, Papua New GuineaTreehouse of the Korowai, Papua New Guinea There is an enormous variety in the style of houses built in different parts of the world. Local conditions play an important part in the design of houses. In regularly flooded areas, houses are built on stilts. In places where earthquakes are common, houses need to be able to withstand sideways movement. Houses in mountainous lands often have steep roofs, so that heavy layers of snow can slide off. Mud and mudbricks are traditional building materials that have been used for thousands of years. Early builders noticed that mud bakes hard in hot sun. So they shaped bricks from wet mud, or built up their walls with mud, and then left them to dry.

Tongkonan in Kete Kesu, South SulawesiTongkonan in Kete Kesu, South Sulawesi


Tongkonan are the traditional homes of the Torajan people, from South Sulawesi, Indonesia. They are made from wood with a large, boat-shaped roof protruding over the front of the building. Tongkonan are customarily built facing north-south. Cramped and dark with few windows, the internal space is small by comparison with the huge roof. But it is intended only for sleeping and storage; most daily life is carried on outside. In larger Torajan villages, houses are arranged in a row, side by side. Opposite or at right angles to each house is the family's rice barn, or alang. A large tongkonan can take a team of ten about a year to build.

Kampong Ayer in Brunei, Southeast Asia, is the world’s largest area of stilt houses. It is actually a cluster of 42 villages linked by around 29,000 metres of foot-bridges. Kampong Ayer is home to more than 30,000 people. It is sometimes called the “Venice of the East”. As in the Italian city of Venice, people travel by water taxi.

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