Obos and Beehive homes are built using Nature's Arch... The Catenary.


Obos in Pouss, Cameroon


These are clay Obos (right) of the Musgum people in Pouss, Cameroon. They are designed in much the same way as the Turkish beehive homes (below) in Harran, to provide efficient cooling in the baking heat. Both are designed with vents at the top of the building and small entrances with few, if any, windows.


The high domes collect the hot air, moving it away from people sleeping at the bottom of the house keeping the interior around 75F (24C). Both ancient designs are based on the catenary arch, that's the shape formed by a hanging chain. Vaults built in this way can be very slim and use a minimum of material for maximum strength. The patterns on the exterior of the Obos are not decorative but rather for maintenance of the dome. Each part of the design forms a foothold for workers to plaster the home (below right).


Beehive homes, Harran, Turkey


Plastering an Obos


The naturally forming arch was a favourite of Gaudi in many of his buildings. Casa Mila in Barcelona, Spain (bottom left) is a beautiful example of this. Gaudi planned many of his buildings by drawing a floor plan and then hanging it from the ceiling to attach chains to show how the arches should be formed.


John Ochsendorf, author of
Guastavino Vaulting: The Art of Structural Tile




Casa Mila, Barcelona, Spain


Lancaster House, London, UK


Michael Ramage of Oxford University used the same arch in his work on the Earth Pavilion at Lancaster House in London, England using Timbrel vaulting, a structural method developed by a contemporary of Gaudi, Rafael Guastavino Moreno. The same arch and tiling method was used in the Mapungubwe Centre in Limpopo, South Africa (video below).


  Mapungubwe Interpretation Center Limpopo, South Africa  

Mapungubwe Interpretation Center
Limpopo, South Africa