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Travel & Holidays in later life



How would you like a holiday in a house, made out of old car tyres, beer cans, bottles and mud? Hugh Taylor and Moira McCrossan check out state of the art eco-buildings in Taos, New Mexico and talk to pioneering architect, Michael Reynolds.


Travel Facts


Earthship, Taos, New Mexico by Amzi Smith licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Earthship, Taos, New Mexico by Amzi Smith
licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

We were picturing a cross between a shanty town shack and a mud hut. We crossed a bridge over a river, a mere trickle which will grow into the mighty Rio Grande. The high desert in New Mexico is bare and inhospitable like a lunar landscape. Ahead of us a series of mounds grew out of the desert, like long narrow Neolithic barrows or futuristic underground shelters from an alien environment. Built into the mound, the front of the building was hidden. When the beautifully crafted facade of glass, tile and traditional adobe came into view, all thoughts of stone-age, shanty towns or mud huts disappeared. This was no transient or makeshift structure, but it does provide shelter from a hostile environment. Built from rubbish and discards they may be but earthships offer the last word in luxury. It was like stepping through the doors of Dr Who's police box. Inside was a spacious, well lit, airy dwelling that would not be out of place on the cover of a glossy magazine.

Earthship Taos New Mexico


Michael Reynolds the Earthships, inventor was there to meet us. He has the appearance of an old hippy, with long hair and beard, casually dressed in plaid shirt and jeans. Like many of his generation he dreamt of changing the world. When he trained as an architect he was interested in innovative design and conservation. The earthship is the culmination of his work. He explained,
“Normal housing is like if you were in hospital on life support. The minute the support is taken off you're going to die. The minute support is taken away from conventional housing it's unusable. If they have a hurricane or the power goes out the house is unliveable. Earth changes, political factors, oil, economy and so on, make our support systems very insecure, not to mention destructive to the planet.”
Earthships use solar and wind energy which is stored in batteries for later use. Rain water is collected, filtered and stored in a massive tank which is usually a main feature of the living area rather than hidden away in a loft or cupboard. This is first used for drinking, cooking and washing up. The grey water produced does not run away but is collected and recycled to another storage tank. Then it is used to flush the toilets and irrigate the indoor garden. The outflow from the toilet is filtered and channelled outside to provide irrigation and the waste matter is incinerated in a specially designed solar powered unit. The water never escapes. It is used four times.




Michael took us on a tour of the earthships available for holiday rental and explained in detail how the system worked. Each one is different in design from the long luxury earthship to the futuristic Nautilus. They fit perfectly into their environment with their tiled floors, traditional adobe finish, thick curved walls and domed or sloping roofs. The multi-coloured recycled wood, the bottles and cans embedded in the adobe, the large surface of glass, the plants and the water tanks contribute to the atmosphere and the design and are integral parts of the life support system. Michael pointed out the luxurious finish of an adobe wall painted in a pastel shade. “Underneath that although you can't see them,” he says, “are tyres and empty beer cans. Over there are bottles. The timber that supports the roof was all reclaimed from a demolition site. The planter is made with bottles. Inside the sewer system is made from ground up plastic. The by products of our society are woven into here but what faces us everyday of our life is entirely natural, adobe, wood and stone.”

Earthship entrance Taos New Mexico

Building an earthship uses trash which presents a problem to society to produce something that Michael sees as part of the solution. The basic building block is a car tyre. Car tyres are available throughout the world, they are waste products which require disposal anyway and when rammed full of earth, they provide thermal mass to retain heat or cold. In response to the energy crisis, water shortages and pollution problems, they started to build power, water and sewage systems into the houses. Michael believes that our existing complex infra structure is absurd,
“Lake Tahoe in Nevada takes its sewage and pumps it, using electricity, over a mountain to a treatment plant at the other side. In Lake Tahoe if they have a power failure no one can use the toilet. It is archaic having a network of piping and wires delivering power and water and taking away waste from houses all over the place, when the home itself can do all this itself. ”

Michael Reynolds is an enthusiast who has spent thirty years working on this idea. He encourages people to visit, to look inside and see videos and displays explaining the concepts behind Earthships. He wants people to try the earthship experience.
“We can show people first hand how it works and they can judge for themselves. A couple can rent from $120 per night, not much more than a hotel. After spending a night in this building, they can ask did they have enough power? Did they have a nice Jacuzzi bath? Did they have refrigeration? People don't believe this is possible.”

We came away fired by Michael’s enthusiasm to incorporate some of the ideas into our home. We reckoned we were off to a good start with the thick stone walls of an old cottage - and that raised patio we’d been planning - we might just build it from old tyres - but I think we’ll forget the solar power in the drizzly west of Scotland.




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