|Editor’s Comment: Mike Reynolds and his crew of 7 or 8 people have built sustainable, affordable, houses in the United States, Andaman Islands following the 2004 tsunami, Haiti following the 2009 earthquake and in China. Reynolds describes their unique technology as, “An entire method that is independent of corporations, largely independent of oil and independent of politics.” As of September, 2012 over 3,000 homes have been built using this technology. One of the many things that distinguishes his work is that he shares and teaches the technology to people rather than making them dependent upon himself. This is something that the western colonizers did for the the people in their colonies, i.e. sharing the technology. Mike’s visit to survey the earthquake damage in Haiti, for example, quickly turned into “The Haiti Earthship Project.” After teaching Haitians to construct their own houses, 40 local Haitians aged four to 50, built a permanent, sustainable structure from waste materials – mostly tires and glass bottles – in just four days. Mike emphasized the imporance of empowerment of the people, “They built the building! The real thing that shows it’s possible for them to do it, is that they did it.”|
The following video will take you to places you cannot imagine – from the creativity of their first houses in the US to the formidable obstructionism by the State of New Mexico to the Andaman islands.
– Les Blough, Editor(Axis of Logic)
A Co-production by Open Eye Media,
ITVS International and Sundance Channel
One Man’s Trash: Another Man’s Treasure
Mountain Equipment Coop
September 19, 2012
Ever since I started working at MEC, I’ve been interested in green buildings. We’ve been “greening” our buildings (making design and materials decisions based on environmental considerations) for over a decade. So this July, I visited New Mexico and toured some of the greenest, most unusual, ecological and self-sufficient buildings around – Earthships. These “Earth Vessels” look like miniature Noah’s arks moored in the middle of the desert, a few kilometers north of Taos and west of the Rio Grande.
The location made me feel like I was on the set of Star Wars, or on a giant canvas pained by Dali while he was on acid. The entire north side of each house is buried in the earth. Empty beer bottles, old tires and other waste materials form the basis of the construction. But once inside a structure, I was surprised to discover that an Earthship has all the comforts of a regular house, but without the cost and energy bills.
Earthships are the product of the unbridled imagination of Mike Reynolds, a visionary architect who considers garbage a natural resource. In 1972 he began to build this series of sustainable and self-sufficient houses. His principle was simple: use materials considered to be trash to create ecological and affordable houses. Today, there are over 3000 houses built on the Earthship model. Most are located in New Mexico, but Reynolds also went to New Orleans after hurricane Katrina and to the Andaman Islands following the 2004 tsunami to help build durable, ecological homes.
Earthships at a glance:
The back and sides of the houses are mostly underground. The fronts feature large south-facing bay windows that let in sunlight and serve as greenhouse windows for growing vegetables and plants indoors, year-round.
Rainwater is captured and stored in cisterns. The water passes through different filters for drinking water, kitchen use, the shower, the toilet, and the washing machine. It is also used to irrigate the greenhouse and vegetable garden. Re-filtered water is also used in solar-powered water heaters.
Earthships don’t have heating or air conditioning. Solar panels collect energy and batteries store it for household electrical needs. The walls are built of stacked tires filled with packed earth. For an aesthetic touch, bottles or pieces of glass are built into the walls in mosaic patterns that diffuse the natural light. In winter, the earth-covered walls retain heat, in summer, they help keep the interior cool. The tires help maintain a constant temperature year round, creating a comfortable living environment.
The end result are houses that operate with minimal electricity and water bills.
Are they utopian models of the future? Perhaps, but despite some obvious advantages, Earthships are far from unanimously loved and accepted. Some critics point to the lack of regulations for this type of construction, which doesn’t correspond to traditional architectural norms. You can learn more about their features and about Mike Reynolds, in an excellent documentary called Garbage Warrior.