So yesterday Jana’s friend asked her to check out “some earthship lecture” going on at the National Technical Library. Unfortunately Jana couldn’t go but I decided I wanted to check it out. Well, to my surprise while I was looking for direction I found out that it was Michael Reynolds himself! Super cool. I arrived early and had to brave a sold out crowd. The line was very czech (which means there was no line, only chaos) however I finally managed to get a ticket in the end.
The lecture hall itself was sold out, and obviously over capacity. People were sitting in the stairways and it was standing room only. I was very happy to see many young architecture students who seemed very receptive to what Reynolds was speaking about. The older professors seemed pretty stodgy and I remembered that my friend Paul had told me previously that architects tend to be extremely egotistical. But Michael Reynolds was really great.
I had previously understood the idea of thermal mass, and the fact that earthships were built to be self contained units which were completely off the grid. Recycling their own water, generating their own food, heating, and cooling themselves, built from primarily recyclable materials, and easy to build. The main question I had lingering pertained mainly to the wall of windows (the solarium) at the front of the building and how it worked with the rest of the building. I was unaware that the solarium itself was used as a sort of a buffer zone between the outside space, and the indoor space. And I really like the idea of incorporating plants into a building, and altering the design to accomodate plants both for eating, but also for cleaning the air as well as the water.
The systems he discussed for cleaning water were very interesting, and this was one aspect where I’d have to meet it halfway. I would have absolutely no problem with recycling the grey water from the shower, or the wash, but the toilet on the other hand. I think It would end up being a huge pain in the ass and having a normal functioning toilet would be one of the little things that I wouldn’t be ready to give up.
The solar panels and the wind energy are pretty standard at this point and going solar seems like it is more of a lifestyle switch. I know of only one person who is living totally off the grid and his solar panels are enough to keep his laptop running. I also recall about ten years ago I went out into the desert outside of Flagstaff Arizona with some friends. There was a cabin out there, and it only had solar power. Nonetheless it was enough to power the turntables, a few lights, and the speakers all night. I still remember how everyone started cheering as the sun rose in the morning and we knew the music wasn’t going to end. But of course, that’s Arizona, there’s tons of sun. There’s some other small changes that can be made such as switching to LED lighting. However, I honestly don’t think taking down the amount of energy we use would be an impossibility. I want the TVs to go out the window as soon as our child is born, and other than our big energy sucker will be computers. I don’t intend to go completely off the grid but it would be nice to have some supplemental green energy coming into the house to offset our utilities bill and just make us more conscious about how much energy we are using.
At one point someone in the audience asked about Biosphere 2. Which was an attempt to create a completely contained unit that would make all it’s own food, own air, recycle it’s waste, etc. etc. Well, Biosphere 2 failed, and I think Reynolds had a great answer as to why. Biosphere was one project that cost billions of dollars to make, and if that one design failed, it meant the end of the entire project. But with earthships, and alternative bulding techniques it is important to learn from your mistakes constantly, and improve upon them. The fact that we get to play around with these same types of ideas on a small scale is really pretty cool. Of course there’s tons of money at play to the average person, but at least thousands of other earthships have been built. It isn’t just one design, it’s more an idea, and I think if some compromises were made it would be something that be incorporated into many different types of homes.
Michael Reynolds seemed like a really chill guy, and he genuinely seemed like he was trying to make the world a better place. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps some of his ideas came from a different age, and that the young architecture students were thinking of new and creative ways to incorporate his ideas into more modern designs. I think the main thing that put some people off was simply how it looked, and this part of the world doesn’t have any history of adobe buildings so they really look like spaceships to them. However I really think the basic idea of using earth as thermal mass for both cooling and heating is sound. I’ve seen the other variations of this such as earthbags, and I’m not really sold on them. I imagine it feels great to live in a home with such thick sturdy walls. I’d love to somehow incorporate elements of an earthship with other building techniques. However I imagine this is mainly a war that you’ll end up having to have with some local planning committee. I imagine this will be the most difficult battle we’ll have to fight, and it’s really sad that these sort of things are such a waste of money, energy, and time. But I’m definitely ready to take it all on, because in the end we don’t really have anything to lose.