Tag Archives: innovation

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.

Urban inspiration at Bike Tank

Collaborative inspiration at Bike Tank (photo: Mal Booth)

It’s a precious gift to feel supremely energised and inspired at 9am on a Tuesday morning. And that’s the gift the innovative Bike Tank – “a think tank that you cycle to” brought to me and no doubt quite a few other Sydney-siders this sunny spring morning.

Wandering into the workshop in the big, fab old Chippendale warehouse was like wandering into a little slice of Berlin or Amsterdam – Sydney style. We have u.lab to thank for Bike Tank: that’s Joanne Jakovich, Jochen Schweitzer, Julie Jupp, Wayne Brookes and Nathan Kirchner.

The concept is this:

BikeTank is a weekly intensive workshop where we play with new design thinking methods for cities. Each Tuesday morning (8-9am) is an intensive exploration into a defined topic hosted by emerging design entrepreneurs and leading thinkers, contributing to a bigger picture project. You can have some coffee and pastries and even get your bike tyres pumped and swap bike stories.

This morning’s Tank was all about humanising urban design processes. First we heard from Ben Hewett, South Australia’s Government Architect and Director of http://5000plus.net.au/ – an exciting inner Adelaide urban renewal initiative based on principles of collaborative inquiry and integrated design.

Then off we all went with our hand-crafted “thinking caps” on (’twas a joy to behold some of those whacky contraptions!) and workshopped a series of urban problems. These included how to create flexible student housing with more spaces for social interaction, to break down the isolation often experienced by international students. Another looked at building better social and physical infrastructure for apartment-dwellers to connect with each other and share their lives.

Re-imagining urban interaction (photo: Mal Booth)

It was a creative process, which challenged the brain cells while being fun, tactile and very hands-on. A short burst of collaborative learning fueled by excellent coffee and pastries.

Tackling public transport challenges at last week’s Bike Tank (photo: Mal Booth)

Well done u.lab for a great concept that brings together students, architects, urban designers, engineers and creative thinkers of all persuasions. I think we all learnt a great deal from each other this morning and I can’t wait for the fourth Bike Tank in a couple of week’s time.