Since the early 70s, Michael Reynolds has been following his vision of sustainable, energy-efficient homes that work alongside Mother Nature. He wrote about the inspiration for his Earthships in a book called, A Coming of Wizards. Despite the psychedelic nature of the visions he experienced, his designs were groundbreaking with their earth-friendly shapes and use of environmentally friendly practices. Even more importantly, his structures are still relevant today. Even now his Earthships are inspiring designers and architects with ideas of self-sufficient green living.
Reynolds’ vision of sustainable homes meant that his designs were energy independent, comfortable and beautiful, and utilized waste materials in the construction of the home. He used earth as insulation, sticking his homes halfway into hillsides then planted native plants on moisture-proof roofs. This way the home was able to grow its own summer shade and then naturally thinned, so that during the winter months, more sun reached the roof to warm it.
Earthships needed to store solar energy to use overnight and when the nights get longer and colder as the seasons shift. Reynolds’ designs featured massive, south-facing windows to capture sunlight and used concrete and adobe that soaked up sunshine all day then radiated warmth at night.
Instead of bricks, the walls of his designs featured old tires, bottles and tin cans. He took the waste of our landfills to strengthen and insulate the walls of his houses. Using packed earth and tires, the recycled “bricks” were mortared with concrete or adobe. The walls constructed from glass bottles and jars were left exposed so that the light played through them in mosaic designs. For Reynolds, trash had form, function and esthetics.
Reynolds’Earthships had off grid solar systems, wind turbines and water collection systems. Some systems within the house reused bath water and sink water again for the toilet. All of these processes were labor-intensive, and he knew that the majority of contractors would have little interest in tackling such a project. For Reynolds, it was a labor of love, and he knew that there were other like-minded home owners out there. He kept the mechanics simple and made the building process accessible, even for amateurs. The beauty of his homes was as accessible to a home builder as it was an owner.
Earthships have been built all over the world. There wereEarthship subdivisions and condominiums. Even the funkiest Earthship was viewed with affection by other Earthship aficionados. Reynolds was even the subject of a documentary, Garbage Warrior, and has been interviewed by every major architecture publication. Forty years later, architects and designers were using some of Reynolds fundamental principles, that architecture can use recycled materials to create functional, esthetically pleasing structures. His style and vision hadn’t faded away with other architectural fads. Instead, it was stronger than ever.
Image credit: DreamGreenHome