So far I’ve seen a lot of great ideas from both those who are striving to build sustainable homes with recycled materials (Michael Reynolds and his earthships) as well as cutting edge eco materials used in homes that are reminiscent of early modernism. In the two photos below you can get a clear idea of what I’m talking about and how the two styles seem to be very much at odds with one another.
The earthships are designed around the idea that they are self contained living quarters that would provide the occupant everything he would possibly need. From water collection, to generating energy, septic system, food, and heat. They truly are an amazing concept when it comes to living and being forced to interact with the environment around you. They also illustrate a very American concept of freedom, and I don’t think it’s a mistake that the first earthships were created in the early 70s. They are the architectural equivalent of a Rolling Stones album. However I also believe that the way they look is closely linked with the materials used to build them. The walls are made of old tires packed full of dirt, and anyone can learn to build a wall out of old bottles and cement. Overall I believe the idea of living off the grid in an earthship is one that ultimately has everything to do with being free, and living in a way that doesn’t hurt the environment. Unfortunately they have much less to do with aesthetics, and I believe that the space and light of a home also has a psychological impact on the inhabitants. In earthships these things seem to be secondary. Now, I’m sure there are some people who love the organic contours of earthship interiors. and I know the first thing that attracted Jana to them was the fact that plants played such a dominant role in the home. But I was thinking, shouldn’t there be a way to get many of the benefits of living in an earthship in a more modern home. , I Imagine the ideals that really make an earthship an earthship (thermal mass, making food, water, septic, heating, solar power, etc.) could be accommodated into a more modern structure.
Take a look at the illustration below and you can see just how complex (yet still simple) and self sufficient these buildings are.
The benefits of building with reclaimed materials is two fold. For one you’re recycling and thus cutting down on your carbon footprint on the planet, on the other hand building with tires and dirt is dirt (pun intended) cheap. And cheap is very important to Jana and I as our goal is to have as small a mortgage as possible. I’m just wondering what the best way would be to incorporate the cheapest/greenest materials with a structure that will also seem clean and modern. John Lautner is someone who comes to mind, mainly because as a student of Frank Lloyd Wright I’m sure he was a firm believer in Organic Architecture which is a philosophy of architecture which promotes harmony between human habitation and the natural world through design approaches so sympathetic and well integrated with its site that buildings, furnishings, and surroundings become part of a unified, interrelated composition. The ideas of Organic Architecture are fantastic, however in this day and age I just wish that there could be a bridge between the Clean White Cube and the Earthship. Many green building materials are simply too expensive for Jana and I to afford which is why we’re trying to find the best possible middle ground. So far I believe that this middle ground may be straw bale construction as it is both affordable, durable, and also eco friendly.
One idea I had (which may be terrible) would be if a building was built with the intention that the occupant would finish the work on it. It could start off with the bare essentials, and slowly evolve over the years. This way much of the labor costs could be marginalized as the occupant would be the one who is doing all the finishing work. This would also ensure that those living in the home don’t reach beyond their means and end up with a pile of debt. I’d rather trade my hours worked at a job, for money saved doing the work on my house. Perhaps it’s just a pipe dream, and we’ll see how everything progresses, however I think most wouldn’t have a problem with putting in hours to build a home for their family. Especially a super cool Modern Earthship Hybrid 🙂