When a tsunami hit India in 2005, many people lost their homes, but the government was slow in responding to its population’s needs. Michael Reynolds, architect and founder of Earthship Biotecture, decided to help the communities living in the Andaman Islands. He flew in with his team and started to build new homes with the locals, namely Earthships.
Earthships are self-sustainable houses built out of recycled materials and garbage – usually the only material available in abundance after a natural hazard. The walls are built out of old car tires, bottles and cans. Reynolds’ Earthships catch the rainwater and collect the sunlight for energy. These houses come with their own built-in sewage system and don’t require other external energy sources than solar power. Earthships can even provide food such as vegetables and fish.
Since their structure is built out of car tires, these houses are earthquake resistant and cyclone-proof. Reynolds developed several Earthship models for different purposes. He also designed a tsunami-proof village with round houses through which the water can flow freely. Reynolds’ Biotecture team offers workshops all around the world to teach people how to build off-grid homes from simple materials.
The people who visit these workshops are usually volunteers from developed countries who also finance the project. They collaborate with the local communities in developing countries to build the Earthships. This way, knowledge transfer is granted, and communities can continue building their own houses after the Earthship Biotecture crew has left. Knowledge transfer and capacity building are important factors that contribute to the resilience of a community.
In June 2015, Earthship Biotecture held a workshop in Fiji where the team constructed a demonstration Earthship to showcase a low-cost disaster-proof type of building. Earthship Biotecture states “the knowledge transfer from this project is being further distributed to New Zealand and Vanuatu”. Indeed, Kylie DellaBarca Steel, director of the Te Puke (NZ)-based organization “Fruit of the Pacific”, was among the workshop participants “to teach RSE [Recognised Seasonal Employer] workers the skill” in order to rebuild Tanna (Reynolds, 2015). She is convinced that Earthships could serve Ni-Vanuatu as permanent homes or community emergency shelters in hazardous situations.
Want to learn more about Reynolds’ Earthships? Get Garbage Warrior [DVD].