I'm writing a short story set in an isolated, small community in an empty desert post-nuclear war (I don't have a specific amount, but I'd say around 110-200 years afterward). I was wondering what housing and other buildings would look like?

They were all built by the people in the community. What materials would be available for them to build with? Thanks for any help!

  • $\begingroup$ Could you add a bit more deatail? Where do they live. What tech level. How smart. How many, etc. (note that these are examples and note necessarily the type of detail you need to add) Thank you. $\endgroup$ May 11 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ Adding technology level would help. Additionally, what resources are available where they live? Are they in a desert? A forest? The environment is a huge contributor. $\endgroup$
    – A Writer
    May 11 at 16:17
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ People don't settle in "empty desert"...except in movies. People tend to settle near reliable sources of food and water. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    May 11 at 16:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Fired bricks, mud bricks (= adobe), wood. The materials which have been used to build houses in villages since forever. In some particular places other materials are available and practicable -- for example, blocks of salt. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 11 at 16:38
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Given how much buildings and architecture have changed in the past 200 years, you can basically choose any form of construction you want. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    May 11 at 16:46


enter image description here

Much like old middle-east or african cities still in occupation today.

In a post nuclear war world, presumably there is a severe deficiency in:

  • Manufacturing
  • Transport
  • Fuel
  • Machinery
  • Education

That last point is essentially the major one: Expect educational systems to break down during the conflict and people returning to medieval levels of knowledge. Therefore one would expect the populace to use what is on-hand and that does not require any expertise and minimal maintenance.

Plus Mud structures are well-suited to desert climates with thermal mass providing acceptable temperatures in environments with a high diurnal range.

  • $\begingroup$ And look - they have some rocks. Mud with rock garnish. Hey @flox add a link to where you found that picture. I want to know more. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    May 12 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk Pic is in Mali, Africa. Link bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-08-10/… $\endgroup$
    – flox
    May 12 at 18:06

You'll need to make some decisions about the rules of your world... which is good!

This discussion is going to see-saw back and forth a bit so you can see where you can create rules to rationalize your world.

First, note that 99.99% of the technology we enjoy today was invented in the last 150 years. You're estimating 110-200 years after the apocalypse. That's quite literally plenty of time to completely restore all of the technology we enjoy today. So, from a simplistic point of view, they'd have the same buildings you see around you right now.

But your world is not simple! 150 years ago the world's population was about 1.25 billion. What that means is, all other things being equal, your apocalypse can wipe out almost 84% of the world's population and (IMO) you'd be at 1870 population levels with 2021 knowledge. Now, you can slow things down by wiping out more then 84% of the population — but all things are not equal!

The consequences of a nuclear apocalypse can be great and varied. Not just radiation poisoning, but illness, genetic mutation (not the Spider-Man kind, but the "shortens your life" kind), lawlessness, panic, and the changes such an event would bring to the environment must be considered. That previous link points out that IMO it's very hard to lose knowledge. Books are everywhere (most knowledge is not yet entirely digital, despite what Google would have you believe). So are resources (stores and warehouses full of goods, old buildings made of brick and metal....). Whether or not these kinds of things affect your community depends on how massive the attack was, whether or not long-term-fallout bombs were used, how much of the farm/ranch/forest land (that not dotted with ICBM bunkers) was affected, whether or not major water sources (lakes, aquifers, etc.) were contaminated, etc.

It's really important to realize that most bomb-made radiation doesn't last much more than 7-10 years (nearly all of the radiation from the tests in the 60s and 70s is long gone). I've coined the phrase "long-term-fallout" to describe a bomb specifically designed to release radioactive particles that have a very long (50-150 years or more) decay rate. It's worth noting that it's unlikely (even unrealistic) that a nuclear war would actually employ such weapons. It's also worth noting that nuclear fallout is neither (A) contagious (you can transfer a radioactive particle from one place to another, but if something has been irradiated, that irradiation can't be passed to something else) nor (B) dense (it's not spread around like peanut butter, it's a dust, and there's only so much dust to spread around).

So, what buildings would there be?

There would be whatever buildings you want there to be based on the rules of your world and the conditions surrounding your community.

After at least 100 years (and we know how fast humans can populate the world in 100 years from a known starting point!), you'd have metallurgy, mining, forestry... which means saws, nails, and hammers. Stick frame housing is very believable. Perhaps sheetrock less so (it would depend on how much your community's infrastructure had grown). Pipe extrusion was first patented in 1797. Wire making has been around since (I kid you not) 3,000 BC. Simple generators aren't that hard to make and your community had 100 years to work on it. Concrete is frankly a given.

Can you see my point about you making decisions? If enough people survived the apocalypse, you'll be right back to 2021 in the time frame you've provided. If enough people died and enough setbacks occurred, then you'll have stick frame houses (maybe log houses, but after 100+ years?). You need to decide how held back your community has been and how that happened.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This. Anyone who's driven through small communities (in the USA, anyway), knows that there are literally a bajillion supply dumps full of lumber, plywood, sheetrock, cinder block, bricks, concrete, cement, gravel, sand, fill dirt, sheet metal, shingles, hardware of every description within about a half hour's drive of literally everywhere. Except maybe on some remote Alaskan island. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    May 11 at 18:52

Very few deserts are actually empty. You have a lot of choices, depending on the lifestyle and tech level of your people.

Hunter-gatherers might inhabit places like Alta Toquima: https://www.amnh.org/research/anthropology/curatorial-research/north-american-archaeology/projects/alta-toquima-nv https://www.thearmchairexplorer.com/nevada/alta-toquima-wilderness.php

Agricultural people might inhabit cliff dwellings or pueblos: https://www.nps.gov/meve/learn/historyculture/cliff_dwellings_home.htm https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pueblo

If they happen to be herders, then they might use something like the Navajo hogan: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hogan

Miners might build something like this: https://www.bodie.com/

And a more modern settlement might look like any number of rural Nevada towns, such as Goldfield: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldfield,_Nevada


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.