1800 Miles - Repurposed

Updated: Oct 16

This was the perfect opportunity for me to complete the initial requirements for a certification in Biotecture. I started to complete the online Academy content. Weeks later I was scheduled to attend a field study that would hopefully solidify the concepts and technical topics I studied online. After one year of the Covid quarantine I was ready for a road trip, and a new experience outside of the four walls that I called home. I planned to head to Tres Piedras, New Mexico to participate in the 4-week field study; building the foundation of the Unity model, which was the newest model of the Earthship models. Although, traveling without supervision is an added thrill the idea of driving all those miles alone was a bit daunting and initially I tried to see who could join me on this journey, but it became obvious that this was too outlier-ish for anyone that I knew. Especially in the middle of a pandemic.

I have been interested in hybrid architecture for several years, including container homes, adobe homes, and other sustainable building structures. So, when I saw this program on how to build an Earthship it wasn’t hard to decide. I’m not that invested in living off grid, but people end up going in that direction to avoid all of the restrictions that are common in the urban cities. Although, it may take a little planning, I believe we will see a new trend. Where more people will collectively purchase large plots of land with several acres that can be broken down into subdivisions; to avoid strict ordinances. Giving them the freedom to foster a community based on common interest and values, and to revive the sense of community that developers have stripped away. There has to be a middle ground where developers can deliver a more sustainable and affordable residential living option to residents who are part of an existing community.

I always wonder how developers come up with their rental cost point. Many counties have restrictions when it comes to raising rent so I guess the next best option for them is to demolish and rebuild giving them a leap into a higher rental baseline. I remember in marketing class how much consideration was put into identifying the market share a particular company or industry could claim. I’m sure that most of the new developments in many cities fall short of controlling the market share, I would say that most of the recent modern apartment buildings are probably at a 40-60% occupancy rate, because most of the residents in that community cannot afford to live in the new housing that developers are building. I guess the rules don’t apply when it comes to highly funded developers. At this time many housing markets across the country are highly inflated, and overall structured in a way that makes the economic security of any community highly volatile/unstable. Like the “All-Black towns of Oklahoma who came together to create, occupy, and govern their own communities” back in the mid-1800s I can see how elements of this trend could resurface for those who have a common interest in sustainable home building.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (eia) 1 out of 4 homes in the U.S. are all electric. Although, there are many state tax incentives to help facilitate the transition from full reliance on municipal electricity, and installing a back-up photovoltaic (PV) panel system has become common across the country several home owners still haven’t made the transition. People are fairly familiar with it and it’s a matter of time before a greater number of residents make the transition. All Earthships use a photovoltaic (PV) panel system for their source of power. There are other systems that are a functional part of the Earthship design, and could easily lend its science to traditional SFHs. One system that is noteworthy is the water harvesting technology. I remember when I returned to my home after the field study, I realized how much of a loss it is that we don’t have a system in place to capture the rain water.

Living in an Earthship during the field study really helped me understand what kind of design I would want to live in based on my daily consumption. The indoor vegetable garden and the art of repurposing were my biggest takeaways.

As a participant in the field study, I learned about sustainable home building, which uses conventional building methods, but we used recycled materials like tires, bottles carboards, and lots of dirt. Building with dirt isn’t a new concept as a matter of fact this is something that we have seen in traditional architecture across the continent of Africa, because of how accessible and favorable it is to the climate. There are structures that have been standing for centuries that are built with naturally forming elements like dirt and stones. I had my aha moment when I realized that all of these techniques may be commonly used separately, but integrating all of these techniques and systems gives you a complete and sustainable structure that can provide your needs. This is when I realized what kind of a solution it could be for so many people who live in remote areas throughout the continent of Africa and have long struggled with building the infrastructure to provide municipal water and electricity to their residents. This could be a solution. They could also construct it with their traditional architecture.

Hence the title of the film Repurposed. A travel documentary that explores ‘how to’ build an Earthship using repurposed material. The documentary highlights My travel experience visiting the Greater World Earthship community in Tres Piedras, New Mexico and Aguada, Puerto Rico. I lived in an Earthship while I participated in the field study to build one of the latest Earthship models, the Unity build. Where I worked alongside Michael E. Reynolds, American architect known for design and construction of Earthships. Others who participated in this field study included local folks as well as domestic and international participants. Overall, the documentary is about exploring environmental solutions in a fun and realistic way that is simple and adoptable.