Monday, November 22, 2010

Earthship Architecture

Welcome to Earthship homes.
People forget that current concerns about building green are really the second wave of the environmental movement.  Conservation, sustainable design, alternative energy -- these are all ideas originally popularized during the 1970s: the first wave of environmental consciousness.
Gathering used tires for construction material.
During that decade people thought we were going to run out of oil (lines at the gas pumps), the earth was about to be overpopulated ("stop at two"), and Rachel Carson influenced a generation (with her book "Silent Spring.")  The environmental movement was born.
Wall in progress.
All of these nascent movements merged in another type of residential architecture that emphasized recycled materials and energy efficiency.  This was Earthship architecture.  Commonly, but not exclusively, made of recycled tires, discarded bottles, and varying degrees of passive and active solar energy systems, these homes are true children of the seventies. They were initially promoted by Mike Reynolds, architect and founder of Earthship Biotecture, a company specializing in the design/build of Earthship structures.
Earthship rising.

Passive and active solar.
Bottles and concrete make a home.
I had submerged my memories of this approach to saving energy until I recently ran across the mother Earthship community in northern New Mexico. This convergence of free-form residences is located near Taos. On vast acreage high on a cliff above the Rio Grande, amorphous structures sprout like well-spaced mushrooms. Tawny colors blend with the high desert landscape. Many of them are even covered with the land; with others it berms against them. The general recipe seems to be one part Bruce Goff, two parts Paolo Soleri, and a dash of Hobbit warren. Seventies high romanticism. Does it have any relevance today?  One has to wonder, as "ordinary" houses are now capable of approaching grid-neutral energy efficiency through technological advances. It is not difficult to hyper-insulate any new home and feed collected energy back into the grid. In this context, the Earthships seem anachronistic indulgences. But there is no sense of that inside the community Visitors Center.  These are people on a mission and they communicate their beliefs sincerely. Maybe they will survive on the high desert a lot longer than the rest of us living on a lower plane. I don't know, but good luck to them.
Reminiscent of Bruce Goff.
Home sweet amorphous home.

Photos:  M. Knorr

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