We were in Albuquerque to visit the local transition group, we also wanted to visit the capital of New Mexico at the same time, Santa Fe. The group then told us: “If you continue a little further north you will be able to go to Taos, see the ecological constructions. “, “Good idea.” We took information and realized that buildings in question were the famous Eartships.
When one is interested in ecology, waste and self-sufficiency; these constructions of recycled materials are found quickly in the results. It was in the 1970s that the architect Michael Reynolds had the idea of building sustainable houses made from recycled materials, which can function independently and are also possible to all to build.
A 2 hour drive north of Santa Fe, in the highlands of the state of New Mexico, the city of Taos has a taste of cities where you can stay captive. In the small cities of the United States one of the difficulties is to find good food, in Taos, there is 4 groceries which are present including 2 coop of biological products. Art galleries alternate their place with wellness shops, while converted vans are somehow normal. The presence of the Eartship and visitors from around the world must surely be for something.
30 minutes north of Taos we arrive at the Greater World Community, the third and final Eartship community founded by Mr. Reynolds. The word Eartship is a registered trademark, so you will not be able to see it anywhere else with the same name, except the one done by his team, but the word “inspired by Eartship” is accepted.
This third community is the place where there is a visitor center, simply an Eartship that can be visited with explanations in every room. The place that represents a standard home is made from some 700 tires used. The tire is used as a thermal barrier, filled with dirt, it is an ideal protection against different seasons of the desert. The construction technique is simple and efficient, the tires are placed floor after floor filled with compacted earth, making each of them weighs about 200 pounds, the walls are finished with inner and outer abode. This makes it thick and sturdy walls.
An Eartship is a construction that wants to be autonomous and consistent with its environment, but that does not mean that it is reserved for temperate or desert environments, it is also possible to find in heavily snowy regions!
Like any good ecological home, its south-facing orientation favors year-round sunshine, its U-shape and roof construction makes it possible to sunbathe at low altitude in winter and to be protected from the heat in summer. The place we visited has a bay window all along its facade, which allows to produce food in the year with the sunshine received. In summer, so that it is not a furnace, a well placed opening allows to evacuate the too hot air.
In order to feed humans, plants need water just like us; which is a problematic subject in the southwestern states. While we visited the house, I was surprised to see a conventional toilet (with water flush) in a place called ecological. It was only after a discussion with the person in charge that I could understand how the system was good. Yes the toilets are flush water, but it’s a whole system of filtration and recovery that takes place in this house. The cycle of water in an Eartship has 4 phases!
The first phase, after the recovery of rain on the roof, the water is filtered and serves the kitchen and the shower. The water recovered after the first phase is what is called gray water. With a pump system, it is subsequently used to water the various plantations, assuming of course that we do not use chemicals to wash or in the sink, but who really needs it? In the third phase, after the plants, the water that has passed through is finally used for the toilets!
For the last phase, once we have sent the black water away from us, this one will pass a series of natural filters to finish in a septic tank. But this is not the end of this 4th phase, because thanks to filters and an ingenious system, the water becomes good enough to feed outdoor plants that will be used for greening around the Eartship. Vegetation planted there specifically for its virtues recovers water. And then, guess what? The plants sweat and return the water in the sky, circle is done until the next rain.
The first Eartships were made of dry toilets, as that seemed the most logical. However, you have to dump once in a while where you have defected and this can only go into a special compost. In addition, it will always use water for your plants, indoor or outdoor. We will not recommend the outside if you are in the desert and you must use clean water, but if it is dirty and the plants are used to filter it?
The person in charge of the place even told us that it was important to go to the toilet and “flush” because this is how we avoided the overflow the water of indoor plants (the water comes from their tank), but it is also like this that we keep a septic tank in good condition, since it is with the contact of the water that little by little the faeces dissolve in the soil.
An Earthsip requires almost no energy for heating or aeration, its construction is studied accordingly to be in harmony with the environnement. Like straw or adobe, the thickness of the ripe is important in the insulation, it is what is used to keep cool or warm depending on the season. To be more precise, in fact we will not talk about cool or hot, but a stable temperature year-round. This is where the so-called modern constructions have sold their soul to cheap materials, they are inefficient in their environment and need additional input to have this stability (heating, air conditioning, etc.).
We talked about the water system in the home, the pumps require energy, but everything is provided by solar panels or a wind system. The principle of an Eartship is based on this status, it must be autonomous in energy.
Although the systems may seem simple and one of the principles of the Eartship is that everyone can do it, it still takes some knowledge! There are many possibilities when coming to learn how to do an Eartship. There is a volunteer program where you come for a few days, weeks and you can be housed and fed in exchange of time in helping on a construction. This program allows you to put your hand directly in the project and participate in the construction of a real building. It is limited, however, if you want to know how to do everything, because as a volunteer you will be asked concrete tasks so that you help, you will learn things that you will be taught, but you will not be able to decide what to work on.
If construction interests you a lot, whether you want to do your own yourself, there is the Earlship Academy in Taos. For about 1 month you will be between classroom theory and field practice to learn all the basics of an Eartship, from the construction of the mature, to the placement of electricity, plumbing to finishes. This will have a cost however, $ 2500 per person.
It is also possible to pay to bring the team to your field and build your Eartship. This is also how some people get started to launch the project in their country. The Michael Reynolds Eartship biotech team is going around the world building these autonomous buildings.
An ecological project; buildings yes
The term community is used not as a community of people, but a community of constructions of the same family. It will be learned during the visit that the entire initial terrain of the Greater World Community was owned by Michael Reynolds. Initially, in the 1990s, the lots were sold at a derisory price to promote access to property, however, a set of laws, financial rules and taxes have made it unable to continue doing so. It is now more expensive land and not necessarily acquired by a set of people with the same values, whereas the initial objective was to create a community of people in harmony with this type of construction one learns that this to perhaps a little taken the edge.
Although the buildings reflect a real change in the architectural approach, does this change the pace of life? The laws make New Mexico a permissive land with wide open spaces, it will be hard to see an Eartship in the suburbs. Although the 8 billion human beings will never be able to have their own, the approach of the autonomous building is really interesting and for us its place in the idea of transition. As soon as we came out of the building we thought that it might be interesting to have a cooperative Eartship with common spaces.
Also published on Medium.