Utne Blogs > Environment

Desert Dwelling, Off the Grid

 by Lisa Gulya


Tags: environment, sustainable housing, green building, Earthships,

EarthshipMichael Reynolds is the mastermind behind Earthships, which makes him sound like some sort of space renegade. Reynolds is a rebel, profiled in the Walrus, but his transgressions are mundane: breaking state ordinances and county building codes to create sustainable homes dubbed Earthships. His work leaves little time for savvy branding to fight the prevailing belief that off-the-grid living means inhabiting a yurt. 

In the late 1980s, when his architect peers were busy “distinguishing architecture from mere building, liberating it from the plebian world of functionality,” Reynolds was building the first commissioned, decidedly functional Earthship in New Mexico. Reynolds’ designs aren’t sleek—the U-shaped buildings resemble a hybrid “between The Hobbit’s Bag End burrow and the Tatooine farmstead of Luke Skywalker’s youth”—but they are efficient.

“Reynolds’ houses verge on 100 percent self-sufficiency. They harvest their own water, treat their own sewage, generate their own electricity, self-heat, and self-cool,” the Walrus reports. The walls are made of mortar-encased recycled cans and tires, and they have been successfully sustainable in the deserts of New Mexico, the jungles of Bolivia, and the mountains of British Columbia. For Reynolds’ designs to enjoy greater popularity, he’ll need more accommodating building codes. Of course, the Walrus seems to hint, a less snigger-inducing name for his structures wouldn’t hurt either. 

Image by Matthew Yglesias, licensed under Creative Commons. 

dpocius
5/25/2008 12:02:56 AM

It's bothersome that building departments are so hell-bent on stifling innovation. They should take a page from the FAA book. Makers of certificated aircraft have to jump through a myriad of hoops to demonstrate the airworthiness of what they sell to the public, but an individual is allowed to build and fly their own creation with not much more than a basic airworthiness check so long as: 1) they do at least 51% of the work themselves, and 2) they put the word, "EXPERIMENTAL" in big letters in plain sight somewhere on the aircraft. I think I should be allowed to build any sort of private dwelling I want, meeting only basic health and sanitation requirements, if I agree to paint the word, "EXPERIMENTAL" on the outside in 1 foot high letters. How about that, ICBO?