Imagine this. You’ve taken a wrong turn off U.S. Route 64 in northern New Mexico and suddenly find yourself on what seems to be an alien planet - a grouping of strange, organically shaped buildings located in the middle of nowhere.
The buildings are low to the ground, horseshoe-shaped and their walls are dotted with beautiful colored glass. They have no shortage of windows. Around and inside the buildings are plants, both aesthetically pleasing and food-producing. The glass in the walls lets colored light shine through in a beautiful mimic of famous chapels and worship spaces. But these constructions are entirely new and serve a much different purpose.
According to the Earthship Biotecture website, an earthship is “a type of passive solar house that is made of both natural and upcycled materials...earthships can be completely off-grid or partially off-grid.” On top of that, “since it is also a passive solar house, it is also very tight and interacts only with the sun and the earth for heating and cooling, providing stable comfort year round in any climate.”
Additionally, earthships provide their own electricity through photovoltaics (converting light into electricity) and wind power. They contain and treat their own waste water. They catch water and can even act as interior greenhouses to grow food, treating the water at the same time. In short, a highly sustainable and zero waste shelter and way of life.
50 years strong
Michael Reynolds created the earthship movement in the 1970s when he was fresh out of college and wanted to create a new type of architecture that was sustainable, off-the-grid and required little skill to construct.
The first ever earthship is now affectionately known as “The Hobbit House.” The Hobbit House is small, containing just one room in a studio format that includes a bed, couch and kitchen. The bathroom is located in a semi-private walkway behind the house, attached to the garden. It is even available to rent as an Airbnb.
The hub of the earthship world is Taos, New Mexico. In the greater world earthship community, there are currently about 60 homes located on 640 acres of land 10 minutes west of Taos. According to the Earthship Biotecture Website, the annual cost for those living there is just $150 for road maintenance and community features and property taxes for the land the members own. That’s it. No water bills, electricity bills, gas bills, mortgage - those who live there only need to pay for necessities like whatever food they cannot grow, clothes and personal hygiene products.
According to a 2020 article by Insider, those in the earthship community were also - as a result of their off-the-grid way of life - basically unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic. That’s right. The global pandemic that changed all of our lives so completely simply did not interfere with the earthship way of life.
Mark Fleischhaker, who lives in an earthship called the Darfield Earthship in Canada, was interviewed by Insider: "For me, it's kind of felt like business as usual because this is how I've always been living," he said.
According to Insider, the amount of people interested in the earthship community has grown exponentially over the pandemic. As people have observed modern society collapse, they have become increasingly interested in a way of life that does not depend on this infrastructure at all. Reynolds has seen all-time-highs of participants for his earthship-building classes.
Although earthships have presented so many benefits, there’s one reason why they won’t become widely adopted: most people don’t want to live off-the-grid. We like our cities, we like our communities and we like being within driving distance of stores and restaurants and friends.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from earthships and integrate some of the things that they do into modern architecture. If every building had its own heating and cooling technology, made its own energy and grew its own food from water that would otherwise be wasted, businesses would save money and the earth would be a better place.