While Eddy and I were snowed in, we saw the film Garbage Warrior. Garbage Warrior tells the story of Michael Reynolds, a New Mexico architect, and his 30-year fight to build sustainable housing. Since his graduation from an architecture school in 1969, Michael has been building houses using trash. Bottles, cans, glass, tires – you give him garbage, and he will use it to build a house. Michael built one of his earliest houses using beer cans wired together into “bricks,” which were mortared together and then plastered over.
In the mid 1970s, Michael discovered that tires filled with dirt become durable insulation, thus he embarked on building sustainable subdivisions with houses built in the Earthship style. An Earthship is a type of passive solar home made of natural and recycled materials. First designed by Michael, the Earthship homes are generally made of earth-filled tires, using thermal mass construction to naturally regulate indoor temperature. They also usually have their own special natural ventilation system. Earthships are generally off-the-grid homes, minimizing their reliance on public utilities and fossil fuels.
Michael spent the ’70s and ’80s building Earthship subdivisions near Taos, New Mexico. Although Michael stressed to the buyers the experimental nature of his homes, disillusioned buyers began filing lawsuits and complaints over defects such as leaky roofs and inadequate climate control. A series of complaints and lawsuits against Michael prompted the State Architects Board of New Mexico to strip him of his credentials, saying his home designs were illegal and unsafe.
Now, here comes the interesting turn of events. Believing that experiments are necessary to build more sustainable communities, Michael took the issue to the New Mexico State Assembly. He introduced a bill to establish an area in New Mexico to test sustainable housing. If New Mexico allowed the federal government to test atomic bombs, why not let architects test sustainable housing? The film follows Michael as he visits legislators to try to convince them of the need for both sustainable housing and experiments. How do we advance without experiments? How do we survive without sustainable housing?
Needless to say, Eddy and I loved this film. If you have ever faced a seemingly insurmountable ideological opposition, I highly recommend you watch Garbage Warrior. You’ll realize that persistence is the key in changing the world.
For more information about Garbage Warrior, visit www.garbagewarrior.com.