From counter-culture to global business model: self-sufficient housing built from recycled materials and mimicking natural structures.



It started as a counter-culture for hippies in Taos in the late 1960s and 1970s and has become today a sought after blueprint for sustainable building and living: Architect – or rather “biotect” – Michael Reynolds founded the now global company Earthship Biotecture to solve no less than “the world’s problems”. More specifically, the universal environmental concerns of wind, water, garbage and energy are addressed by decentralization and individualization, using recycled materials to build self-sufficient off-the-grid housing.


Whereas the idea of self-sufficient housing is not new, “conventional” construction methods are far from affordable for the average wannabe house owner. The cost drivers being the materials used as well as the need to custom-design buildings for different climate zones and housing needs, making architects and engineers starting from scratch for every single building.


Instead of limiting the individualization to solving environmental issues one housing unit at a time, Michael Reynolds also individualized the building process to get to those solutions. His company, Earthship Biotecture, offers blueprints for autonomous housing that anybody can adopt to their specific needs, and that meet standard building code requirements so earthships can get a permit no matter where it is build. Also, they function in any part of the world – meaning in any climate – and still provide electricity, potable water, contained sewage treatment and sustainable food production.


Earthship Biotecture does not only provide diverse construction drawings of several basic model housings – “detailed documentation on DIY for your own home” – but also design and construction services. Furthermore, the company runs the Earthship Biotecture Academy offering classes in design principles, construction methods and philosophy as well as hands-on training in construction techniques led by Michael Reynolds himself and a number of electricians, plumbers and plant specialists.

To live up to the vision of radically sustainable and self-sufficient buildings, Earthships are built from discarded material such as car tires, glass bottles and cans. The design mimics natural structures, thereby saving as much energy as modern architectural structures: They heat and cool themselves via solar and thermal dynamics, collect power from the sun and wind, harvest their own water from rain and snow melt, contain and treat their own sewage on site, and also produce a significant amount of food. Reynolds phrased the result – off-the-grid housing – more poetically than that: His vision is for the home to “care for the inhabitants and not vice versa”.


So far, about 200 international students from backgrounds as diverse as architecture, municipal planning, art, industrial design, education and environmental activism, have been trained at the academy, now spreading the word all around the world.

More importantly, thousands of earthships have been completed around the world, for example in the US, Canada, Honduras, Jamaica, India, Sierra Leone, the Philippines, Bolivia, New Zealand, Belgium and the UK, to only name a few of the respective countries. Going beyond the environmental impact, the housing blueprints have a positive social effect, too, as they are being exported to Third World countries as humanitarian projects.


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Earthships (Taos, USA)

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Earthships (Taos, USA) 39.804316, -113.796387

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