Tag Archives: architecture

Earthships are coming to Oz

Earthship HQ in Taos, New Mexico – the concept is readily adaptable to the Australian climate

 

Earthships are really quite something.

The concept grew from the desert of New Mexico, where then-architect (now “biotect”) Michael Reynolds began experimenting with “radically sustainable” architecture. It’s radical in that it is entirely self-sustaining, including grey and black water reuse, which nourishes plant life of sufficient quantity to feed the household.

Without going to deeply into the technology behind it, these beautiful buildings – which are created largely from recycled materials, including tyres and bottles, and powered by the sun and wind – are now well established.

Earthship Biotecture has taken the concept to disaster zones, including through the Earthship Haiti project, where local populations learn to build the Earthships and are given blueprints for adopting techniques locally.

A Global Model Earthship has been developed: concept plans are readily available online and adaptable for almost any climate. And there are wonderful concept plans of a large-scale Earthship community – a self-sustaining mini-city.

These are now being built worldwide, including in China (a multi-storey model), Brighton in England, and there’s even a tower model ready to roll in New York City. They are notably passing local building codes in every country.

Earthship interior greenhouse design

Michael Reynolds has recently been on a speaking tour of Australia and he’s bringing the concept to fertile ground. The Sydney event, hosted by Milkwood Permaculture, was a sell-out. The potential for these to be built in Australia’s remote, climatically-challenged communities is wonderfully apparent.

Reynolds’ inspirational message is far more than environmental sustainability – although it is exceptionally, impressively, that.

These buildings are intended to be affordable for everyone. Homes can be built from $10K upwards. And for those who cannot afford the land on which to build, there is the EVE initiative – a self-sustaining community where people can lease earthships for $100 per week.

Reynolds’ message, the earthship message, is environmental, social, political.

What would it mean, he asks, for people to be able to live in entirely self-sustaining houses, which do not rely on connections to the infrastructure grid, and can be affordable enough that people don’t require a lifelong mortgage?

Earthships effectively enable people to become largely independent of prevailing political and economic conditions.

These creations have been fine tuned for the last 40 years, and it certainly feels as though their time has come.

Visionary decision-making = outcome over process

Having spent the last few years working primarily at the level of strategic policy-making and analysis, I’ve lately also been going back to my professional roots through some projects at the urban planning “coalface,” if you will. Affordable housing delivery is a core focus of this work, as well as a deep passion of mine. Living in London and then in Sydney - now two of the least affordable cities in the world – this focus looks set to continue.

I’m working with a number of developers producing schemes under the Affordable Rental Housing State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP), which was introduced in New South Wales in 2009. In seeing how the policy translates on the ground, the fundamental disconnect between process and outcome in our planning system has become increasingly apparent.

The complexity and bureaucracy of the system is not news to anyone in the development sector. It’s an ongoing source of disappointment and frustration that the best intentions are often reduced to the worst outcomes on the ground, due to the system’s multilayered regulatory frameworks.

To give one example: I was recently party to local planning officers threatening to refuse development consent to an affordable housing scheme, due to its failure to provide 6m setbacks from side boundaries on a 15m wide site. A child of seven could do the maths on that one.

The proposal is excellent in every respect. The developer and architect are both strongly committed to providing high quality affordable housing on a narrow urban infill site in an area of strong demonstrated demand. Clearly, rigorous adherence to regulations when their application is unreasonable, nonsensical or downright impossible, can never result in good outcomes.

It is a truism in any sphere – personal, professional or political – that decision-making frameworks weighted too heavily in favour of process over outcome stifle creative invention. In the property sector, this situation impacts our urban fabric by resulting in developments which tick all the boxes, yet fail spectacularly to inspire.

It takes courage and confidence to make decisions on the basis of outcome over process. We need to recognise the profound potential of simpler systems, implemented intelligently, thoughtfully and ethically.

Floating pianos and other surreal cityscapes

Last Symphony by Eugene Soloviev

Cityscapes of floating pianos, surreal structures and entranced human beings…

This is the art of Eugene Soloviev, the Russian painter featured in Web Urbanist‘s latest newsletter.

The thought-provoking images may seem a world away. Yet they echo some of today’s edgier concept buildings - Birmingham’s ‘Bullring‘ and Frank Gehry‘s designs for the University of Technology’s Faculty of Business in Sydney.

Architecture can sometimes be the very stuff that dreams are made of…

Delfin Lend Lease’s Nelsons Ridge – a class act

Homes are nestled in high quality landscaping

Just back from a site visit at Delfin Lend Lease’s Nelsons Ridge in Pemulwuy in Sydney’s west.  Very impressed.

The scheme features excellent urban design; high quality architecture from housing developers Cosmopolitan and Axis; riverside walking and cycle paths, and an abundance of recreational open space and native vegetation.

The masterplanning of the scheme - including detached houses, attached townhouses and apartments – is designed to take advantage of the natural landscape, with its attractive rolling hills. It is an oasis in a locality characterised by typically low density housing and the oversized homes for which Australia is now infamous.

Thoughtful architecture and streetscape design

Delfin and partners have incorporated much of the infrastructure required to support a socially sustainable community.

Now if only there was a railway station nearby…

Sadly, despite the best intentions of developers in striving to create liveable communities, there remains a gaping hole in place of high quality public transport infrastructure in Sydney’s western suburbs.