The snow house of the Eskimo is probably the unhealthiest of buildings made by any savage to live in, but it makes an excellent playhouse in winter, and represents at the same time a most ingenious employment of the arch system in building. The Eskimos build their snow houses without the aid of any scaffolding or interior false work, and while there is a keystone at the top of the dome, it is not essential to the support of the walls. These are self-supporting from the time the first snow blocks are put down until the last course is laid.
The snow house is of the beehive shape and the ground plan is that of a circle. The circle is first laid out on the ground and a space cleared for it. Then a row of snow blocks is laid on the ground and another course of similar blocks placed on top. The snow blocks are not exactly square in shape, but about 12 in. long, 6 in. high and 4 or 5 in. thick. Larger or smaller blocks can be used, according to size of the house and thickness of the walls.
First, the snow blocks must be packed and pressed firmly into position out of moist snow that will pack. A very light, dry snow will not pack easily, and it may be necessary to use a little water. If the snow is of the right consistency, there will be no trouble in packing and working with it. As most of the blocks are to be of the same size throughout, it will pay to make a mold for them by forming a box of old boards nailed together, minus the top, and with a movable bottom, or rather no bottom at all. Place the four sided box on a flat board and ram snow in it, forcing it down closely. Then by lifting the box up and tapping the box from above, the block will drop out. In this way blocks of uniform size are formed, which makes the building simpler and easier.
While one boy makes the blocks another can shave them off at the edges and two others can build the house, one inside of the circle and the other outside. The Eskimos build their snow houses in this way, and the man inside stays there until he is completely walled in. Then the door and a window are cut through the wall.
Laying the Snow Bricks
Three-Room Snow House
Each layer of snow blocks must have a slight slant at the top toward the center so that the walls will constantly curve inward. This slant at the top is obtained better by slicing off the lower surfaces of each block before putting it in its course. The top will then have a uniform inward slant.
The first course of the snow house should be thicker than the others, and the thickness of the walls gradually decreases toward the top. A wall, however, made of 6-in. blocks throughout will hold up a snow house perfectly, if its top is no more than 6 or 7 ft. above the ground. If a higher house is needed the walls should be thicker at the base and well up toward the middle.
The builder has no mortar for binding the blocks together, and therefore he must make his joints smooth and even and force in loose snow to fill up the crevices. A little experience will enable one to do this work well, and the construction of the house will proceed rapidly. The Eskimos build additions to their houses by adding various dome-shaped structures to one side, and the young architect can imitate them. Such dome-shaped structures are shown in one of the illustrations.
A fact not well understood and appreciated is that the Eskimo beehive snow house represents true arch building. It requires no scaffolding in building and it exerts no outward thrust. In the ordinary keystone arch used by builders, a, temporary structure must be erected to hold the walls up until the keystone is fitted in position, and the base must be buttressed against an outward thrust. The Eskimo does not have to consider these points. There is no outward thrust, and the top keystone is not necessary to hold the structure up. It is doubtful whether such an arch could be built of brick or stone without scaffolding, but with the snow blocks it is a simple matter.