Build Your Own Earthship — Earthship Education Initiatives
Reynolds isn’t one to gatekeep information, offering extensive training sessions and educational opportunities for incorporating off-grid design principles, construction methods, and philosophy. Classes aren’t limited to just professionally trained architects — municipal planners, artists, environmental activists, industrial designers, and professional builders are invited and encouraged to participate in the program. Curriculum from the Earthship Biotecture Academy is offered in both in-person sessions and virtually, offering lectures, labs, tours, and hands-on construction techniques to spread the Earthship design philosophy around the world. The Academy has even partnered with accredited programs like AmeriCorps and Western Colorado University’s Master in Environmental Management degree. Although most of the 3,000 existing Earthship variations are located within the United States, Reynolds’ design methodologies have been implemented around the world.
Reduce, Reuse, Revise — Adapting Design Concepts For Other Environments
Earthships are typically built below the frost line, allowing the thermal mass temperature to naturally stay somewhere around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius) regardless of the weather outside. Critics say Earthships are better suited to drier, warmer locations, such as at Reynolds’ home base in Taos. However, with some modification, the units have the potential to be effective in other locales with significantly different temperaments. Earthship Biotecture’s Global Model was designed to work in the vast majority of climates with minor adaptations, and a study on Earthships built in Europe showed that even in a relatively dissimilar climate, they are still largely successful at providing thermal comfort without heating or cooling. The project was adopted in Canada in the 1990s, when environmental activists Chuck and Pat Potter set out to modify the Earthship design for frigid Canadian winters. They promoted their Earthship variation as nearly fireproof due to the minimal amount of oxygen contained in the earth-filled tires, and added a vapor barrier between the walls and floor and increased insulation to account for much harsher weather. These cold-adapted homes have served as models for further construction in Europe, South America, and other more temperate locations.
The Earthship concept is constantly being molded and reimagined to fit into respective building codes and construction regulations, but the ideology extends even further. The concept of a self-sustaining home may be considered radical by those who are used to traditional concepts of architecture, but their basic design principles can be applied in numerous other ways. While Earthships are colloquially known as low-density single home construction, Reynolds notes that the same design concepts can also be amplified to a higher-density or urban scale. When faced by increasing pressure of population increase and climate change feedback loops, the six design points of Earthships are unquestionably universal.
In fact, as self-contained cellular units, Earthships offer an alternative from the dense grids of high-maintenance infrastructure needed to keep urban environments functioning properly. With the ability to generate their own power, water, and sewage regulation, Reynold’s designs omit the need for years of tedious infrastructure-building. This concept has value in less developed parts of the world that already have a tenuous relationship with unreliable infrastructure grids, or offer a potentially more robust option in areas that are seeing greater damage due to climate-exacerbated natural disasters. Reynolds’ team has built an eco hotel in Uruguay, a sustainable public school in Argentina, and disaster relief homes in Puerto Rico, amongst other projects. As far as the U.S. is concerned, instead of the entire power grid going on the fritz, as it has during California heat waves or heavy hurricanes battering the Southeast, each Earthship cell will be able to function independently, preventing rolling blackouts.