Mesa Verde — Cliffhouse by Design

Mesa Verde Cliff Houses

I found a post about the cliff houses of Mesa Verde in Colorado today. This is an amazing example of people building shelters within a larger natural structure.

There are about 150 rooms, and a dozen meeting areas, built into and underneath the rock cliff. The construction happened gradually throughout the first century A.D. and was home to approximately 100 people until sometime in the 13th century.

Early millenium technology enabled the Puebloans to use this location for settlement. Pottery was needed to haul and store food and water. Clay was an essential precursor to the mortar used to bond the rock walls together. Weaving and lumber production enabled the workers to make the scaffolding, ladders and rope necessary to construct the towering structures.

The topology of the Mesa Verde location provides several desirable habitation qualities. For example, the cliff has alcoves that face south and east which provided passive solar heating benefits. The cliff formation itself offers protection from the elements — intense sun, wind, rain, and snow — and acts as a meta shelter, of sorts, to the individual homes. This concept is similar to the protection offered to a treehouse by a thick tree top canopy.

Also, the unique terrain offers protection from intruders and predators. The cliff makes for an solid rear guard and provides the support needed to build multi-level structures and defensive front walls like an ancient patchwork castle. Building houses high up has other defensive advantages: the inhabitants can see further out on the horizon like a watch tower; they can use wall, gate, and door structures to make access from below impossible; and they can use gravity’s potential energy to aid in slinging stones and passive waste removal.

The rooms in Mesa Verde cliff houses are simple, small and functional. Some units use lumber to bolster the earthen walls, and to even create extensions and balconies.

I find this to be an interesting historical example of primal wisdom: When basic survival depended on good shelter people would seek out large scale natural formations. It was important to build a home in a way that was optimized to the natural advantages found to already exist in the environment.

(feature image source: terragalleria.com)


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