Friday, December 18, 2009

Earthships Land in the New Mexico Desert!

While enjoying a visit with my Mother and my Sister and her family in Albuquerque, we took a little journey and headed up to Taos for the day to visit the “Earthship” community that is growing on the edge of town. The Earthship concept has been designed by Michael Reynolds who has been pioneering the development of eco-friendly housing for over 35 years, and whose innovative designs have been built around the world.

Nestled into the desert under the brilliant blue New Mexico sky, the Earthship community pops up from the sagebrush and juniper just outside of Taos. Located about a mile or so past the stunning Rio Grande Gorge, the community has been slowly blossoming on the arid landscape for over 20 years. If you are not familiar with the Earthship concept, the homes are built using a variety of readily available recycled materials, and feature solar and wind power systems, rain-catchment cisterns, gray and black water recycling, and are a showcase of low-impact living and design.

Visitors to the community are greeted at the visitor’s center and are shown a short video to familiarize them with the concepts. Accompanied by a guidebook (which you return before you leave so as to minimize their printing!), you then take yourself through the building on a casual self-guided tour. While not a complete or lived-in home, the tour allows you to see all the innovative details of the construction, as well as the energy and water saving systems incorporated in their design.

A 3000 gallon water cistern with an active water feature dominates the main room, and lush gray-water fed planting boxes in front of the passive solar windows were teeming with flowering plants and vegetables even in the middle of winter. Some of the stucco on the interior walls has been left unfinished to reveal the used tires and aluminum cans that along with the rammed earth with which they are filled, is the dominant feature of their construction. These three foot thick walls which are built into the earth on three sides provide the superior insulation that allows the passive solar features of the south facing structures to provide more than enough heat to keep the homes warm on the coldest of desert nights. Like many solar homes, getting rid of excess heat is sometimes more of a problem than using it, and the Earthships are graced with a plethora of skylights that not only bring a great deal of light into the recesses of the homes, but allow the occupants to release the extra heat when needed. The solar powered electric and the gray water filtration systems are also visible and described in detail. The very hobbit-like dwellings also feature a delightful use of recycled glass bottles which poke through the walls in intriguing patterns and send beams of colored light into the home.

Surrounding the visitors center, the rest of the Earthship community stretches out across the desert. However as a result of the south facing earth-berm design, from the tall windows that grace the front of the homes you see little of your neighbors except the floor of the desert that seems to crawl up the backside of their house.

After working tirelessly for many years, Michael Reynolds and the Earthship team is finally being recognized for their innovative designs, and was recently given funds by the State of New Mexico to build a new larger visitors center. They are also actively building pilot project homes around the world to help spread the Earthship mission and as we departed into the bright desert sun, we hoped for their success.

For more information and pictures CLICK HERE to visit our website.

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