So you wanna build an Earthship? Advice for the eager from Rachel Goldlust, founder of Earthship Australia

Developed by Michael Reynolds, renegade architect, waste re-imaginer and general cowboy, in his own words Earthship Biotecture building methods ‘use today’s rubbish in the building of tomorrow’ – converting waste materials like beer cans, tyres and beer bottles into beautiful, functional, energy efficient homes.

Michael Reynolds

Mike

It’s a construction principle with heart: bringing environmental and social consciousness together with a good dash of Gaudi-esque sass.

An Earthship in Phoenix Arizona

An Earthship in Phoenix Arizona

And it’s hit it off, with Michael’s bio pic Garbage Warrior becoming a runaway success and popular features in architecture series like Grand Designs, the league of wannabe Earthship builders is growing by the minute.

Pumped, grubby Earthshippers

Pumped, grubby Earthshippers!

Last week I helped my mate Rachel Goldlust, founder of Earthship Australia and leader of our wonderful seating circle build in August last year (see recap here and here) organise a film night in Sydney.

Rachel Goldlust

She’s on a bit of a wander around eastern Australia at the moment, promoting a doco on the experiences of Bob and Shelley, a plucky couple who decided to build an earthship home as part of their permaculture property in tropical Mid North Queensland. The community came together around them – knocking it up from vision to lock up stage in a whirlwind few months, led by the know how and enthusiasm of Rachel and fellow Taos trained designer Duuvy Jester.  

Earthship partly there

One of the helping hands, Jennifer Brownson made a film about the process, which you can either check out at an upcoming screening (contact Jen for details on  for2shine@yahoo.com) or by clicking your little mouse here.

Anyway, cutting to the chase, on the film night and thereafter, a good 20+ questions got bandied around. “Where are the Earthships?”  “How can I learn these building methods?”  “How can I find out more about projects happening in Australia” “Do Earthship tyres leach?”  (in a nutshell, the answer is no if they are protected from air, water and sunlight – i.e. inside an Earthship – even if your questioner is a persnickety engineer!).

So I trimmed them down to a top 10 and popped them in an email to Rach. Lo and behold, here are her beautiful insights on things Earthshipological.

What drew you in to Earthship Biotecture? How did you start out on this track?

I was drawn to earthships after being disgruntled with the environmental planning degree that I had just completed thinking there were ways to work within the system to have it recognise alternative designs and ideas for the ways communities should evolve.

At uni I’d been taught the best practice of social and sutainable planning, the idealism of planning theory that sought to learn from the mistakes of cities that failed in the past and come up with a more realistic cohesion of living, working, socialising and building.

I was fascinated by communities, loved going to visit communes and co-ops around Australia and overseas, had even lived in a kibbutz for a few months to try out what real egalitarian socialist communal living looked like.  Id been travelling and wanted to get more involved in practical learning skills.

Earthships just seemed to fit the trajectory I found myself on. Im not much of a gardener, Im interested in it but as a born and raised city girl that tends to wander, I found keeping a garden hasn’t been a high priority but will be when Im more settled.  Earthships seemed to combine the radical edge I was looking for from my boring-looking planning career and I moved out of working as a planner pretty quickly once I saw that there might be a niche for
me helping others to achieve their dreams of off-grid earthship living but were afraid of tackling the authorities without support.  Hence, we have just created Earthship Australia Inc as a vehicle for developing a supportive network hub for the development of Earthship Biotecture in Australia.

Which teachers and mentors have been really pivotal in helping to guide you so far?

I would say Mike Reynolds is the primary teacher, not just for his achievements and visions but for his basic attitude towards our rights as citizens to experiment, fail and ultimately use what we have at hand to follow an alternative path.  
The very premise of Biotecture is to take a good look at what we need to survive, not what we want, and design our homes, and ultimately the shape of our lives, based on those needs. We need shelter, we need power, we need water and food. Once we have invested in these things we can then put our attention and life path onto other visions, dreams, activities which evolve us, not make us feel bound to a system that will spit us out eventually.
I haven’t found a good mentor yet in the community development field who can help me decide what I want Earthship Australia to look like.  I take my guidance from others like myself who are venturing into NFP community work across a range of areas such as social integration, health, economic development, permaculture, art, and try to take advice and guidance from them in their endeavours both here and overseas.
What is your favourite project to date? The one that made you grin the widest and swagger the most?

I really loved working on the Long Way Home project in Guatemala which was the first time I could use my recently learned Biotecture skills in a practical, very tight schedule
environment working with close to 60 others on a home for a poor local woman and her 5 kids.  

Working side by side with the local Guatemalans who were also learning the skills was amazing as they couldn’t believe that there were people like us willing to come across the world and play in rubbish with them and build a home together.  

Like us, these boys felt that unless you were trained and in that sort of industry you had no right to be playing with cement and wood and ending up with an amazing product you could be proud of and enjoy the process of building.  I had enough Spanish to be able to talk and joke with them while we laid bottles and rendered the ceiling with cow shit, and I loved it!

What’s really fed and nurtured you in your learning and building process?  

I have loved the bonds I have made with my Biotecture Academy class mates and others whose projects I have worked on, for whom I would drop everything to go and help them build their home if they asked, and know they would try and help me too.  

Thats a long distance form of community but one I feel very tied to and which nurtures my fears when I wonder if Im on the right path and if im good at this sort of work.  Its the relationships I have formed through Earthship work that have left me feeling the most satisfied and happy with where I am at and how I can keep learning more with these people
around me.

What has been tough?

Learning to step up and conquer my fears.  I have realised Its ok to be honest with others and myself about what I know and what I don’t and that I have to value myself and my skills if
anyone else is going to.  Staying confident is also hard when its such an experimental field and its future is unsure.

What are you currently working on?

I am looking to set up a proper board for Earthship Australia which draws in experience and relevant skills from the community which can help steer us in a growing direction.  Starting up an incorporated association can be a bit bewildering, especially since none of us have really done it before and know what is possible.  I am also working on developing a project
package for clients here in Australia for small-scale test builds on their land to see if they are willing and aware of the scale of a full Earthship house and what is involved.

Are there many Earthship projects in Australia currently?  

As far as I have researched I am aware of less than half a dozen currently in some stage of development.  Some are planned for dwellings, others for sheds or storehouses, chookships and then there’s bigger plans for full-scale global model homes which are in the process of getting council approval.  

I hope that Earthship Australia can provide a platform for sharing of knowledge across these projects so we can all learn from the processes others are going through and share resources,
labour, equipment etc in the future.

Where would you like to see yourself going with this? What kinds of building projects would you like to help bring together?  

I would love to get more into working in skill development like what we did in
Guatemala and what Biotecture is trying to do in other projects across the world in places such as Malawi, Haiti, India etc.  

Working out on Indigenous communities seems like a perfect fit for this work, particularly since housing is at such a crisis point politically and Aboriginal people are left without the self-determination to decide what they want and not really given the opportunity to try to build things that work for their communtiies, particularly out of rubbish that they have an abundance of.  

But before that happens I would like to get alot more experience across the country in different conditions and climates and build creatively with materials at hand, even across
building styles to incorporate other materials such as hemp, pozilana, papercrete etc and get to experiment with alternative materials.

What would you “no way Jose!” want to work on if you could avoid it?

In terms of building projects? Or in my life.  There’s no way I could go back and make coffee. I was a terrible barista anyways!  

I think in terms of working in this area, I thought I could work in bureacracy as I love researching and putting information together and I think I’m quite good at it.  But in reality I don’t know if I could spend 2-3 years planning a project outcome that had no real tangible on ground application but looked like a pretty idea for community development of sustainable building practices, that would really get to me.

What advice could you offer to a fellow Strayan keen to train in Earthship building methods?  
I would suggest getting involved in some of our upcoming workshops.  There’s a few of us now who are going to get trained over in the USA and coming back full of beans, and I know for myself, would love the support of others with a range of skills, backgrounds and experiences to get projects going.  
After our recent workshop in Qld and watching the evolution of the crew that got really involved in the project, just going to a full workshop for 2-3 weeks is a necessary step to see if you like living the sort of life we do when we are on a project, a bit rough, definitely challenging, and then seeing where you can go with it.  
If you want to go overseas and do the Biotecture training I’d highly recommend it but we’d also like to get support to start having that sort of training in Australia so we can build our community base here and not spend $1000s of dollars going over there.  We have the vision, the motivation and capacity to bring Earthships across Australia in the coming years and I see a big window of opportunity to join the movement.  
Earthship biotecture logo - Live free
Woohoo Rach, inspiring words.  
We wish you well with much gratitude for the lessons you have shared with us and our Biotectural farm feature, and admiration for you walking your talk (gushy gush gush gush ;).

So what else then? We have you some nifty Earthship resources!

To learn about Earthship Biotecture and learn more about the method at the world hub in Taos, Arizona, see:

http://www.earthship.com

To find out more about Rachel Goldlust and Earthship Australia and upcoming local Earthship Biotecture training activities see one or all of the following:

http://earthship.com/australia

https://www.facebook.com/groups/EarthshipAustralia/?ref=ts&fref=ts

http://rachelgoldlustearthshipaustralia.weebly.com/index.html

And to join Rach at her latest workshop, finishing the central QLD doco subject home visit:

https://www.facebook.com/events/446838305400343/

Earthship seating circle

Murrindindi’s famous paddock parentheses

Peace out, Murrindindi – whose frosty bodies are geed up about christening our snazzy earthship circle with a bonfire shortly!

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3 Responses to So you wanna build an Earthship? Advice for the eager from Rachel Goldlust, founder of Earthship Australia

  1. julie says:

    I am writing this because I am truly interested in Earthships homes. I am curious, has anyone built an earthship home, in Melbourne. Are the homes warm in the winter months?

  2. Phil foord says:

    I have just arrived in Qld . I want land to build an earthship and australias first QEG . Free energy machine!!! Im not crazy. Its here. Im looking for others who are interested.
    Cheers
    Phil

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