When I was a teenager, a family with two young sons moved in next door. I began babysitting for them and eventually also worked at a retail store they owned downtown. Oh, how my world was broadened by associating with the this clan. The parents were both artists; the family were vegetarians. I believe the husband/dad was bisexual. The couple had sophisticated, eclectic taste; art covered their walls; they each set up home studios and worked through manic fits of creation. They listened to Joni Mitchell and Eliza Gilkyson, wore Calvin Klein and Prada. Their older son was brilliant: he was reading chapter books and conducting science experiments at age five (he completed a medical degree in his early twenties). Their younger son was a free spirit, very affectionate and kind. He showed promising artistic ability even as a toddler. I wonder what he is doing now…
The flair for living this family possessed in spades was offset by their surprising existence before becoming my neighbors: they lived in the Southwest in an off-the-grid house built from tin cans and adobe. I wouldn’t have believed it, except a feature article in a national magazine was written about the house, about them, and I read the article, pored over the photos several times at their house. The one photo that will stay forever in my mind’s eye was of the wife/mother in front of a honeycomb wall of cans, sunlight from a window streaming down on her raven hair as she held her infant son. I remember thinking, “I wouldn’t mind living in a tin can house if it’s that lovely!”
This was my first exposure to non-conventional home construction, and though I have yet to live in such a place, I remain intrigued. In other posts I’ll share more about different types of non-conventional structures, but today I’ll stay on topic with dwellings made of truly recycled materials commonly called “Earthships,” pioneered by architect Michael Reynolds. What is meant by truly recycled materials is materials used “as is”- not reworked to produce a new building material. But Reynolds’ creations are more than cans, bottles, and tires, and now there are Earthships all over the world. They encompass every aspect of sustainable living: the dwelling itself, the energy required to live there, the water used, the food eaten. Reynolds has always stressed that his style of architecture is experimental, while maintaining it could greatly benefit humanity, if embraced. He has faced a lot of opposition to making his dream of sustainable architecture a reality. Here is a fascinating documentary about his quest.
Would I have the courage it takes to live unconventionally, as dwellers of Earthships do? I don’t know. I’ve heard it said “the greenest building is the one that’s already built,” so for now I’ll take comfort in that statement, and strive to live mindfully in my 142 year old “recycled, reused, re-loved” home. There are things we need to do to green it up: more insulation; restore the windows; convert from a fuel oil furnace to… anything else! We’ve not yet settled on the choice, nor have the budget to change it out but immediately, but there are so many better alternatives to consider.
So for now, my conventional home is my earthship; I live in it with gratitude and love.
- Earthship touches down in Adelaide Hills (blogs.abc.net.au)