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Autarkic, sustainable and affordable?

Earthship homes: the alternative way to live

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Living space is becoming increasingly expensive and unaffordable for many. Added to which, crises and wars are sending energy and food prices soaring. Against this backdrop, a home living concept from the US has appeared at just the right moment: Earthship homes. Their founder dreams of creating largely autarkic and affordable accommodation. But what are Earthship homes exactly, where do they come from, and what makes them so special? We answer these questions in this article.

What are Earthship homes?

If you dream of an autarkic life, listen up: The trend for buildings known as Earthship homes has now arrived in Germany. This home living trend aspires to a self-determined, sustainable and inexpensive life. The idea for this self-sufficient lifestyle comes from the US – from the architect Michael Reynolds to be precise. In the 1970s, Reynolds set out to create resource-efficient alternative homes that everybody could afford. The result was the Earthship home – built from natural raw materials, such as sand and wood, with the addition of the most important ingredient: waste. From old car tyres to glass bottles and discarded building materials, everything that people throw away is used to build the houses. But that’s not all: The aim is for Earthships to not only provide their residents with energy and water – they also produce fresh fruit and vegetables. This is possible thanks to a sophisticated system of cisterns, wind turbines and photovoltaic panels, thermal energy and intelligent energy-saving architecture. As a result, Earthships don’t need a conventional grid connection for water and power. This makes them completely autarkic – but without having to sacrifice modern home comforts such as satellite television and Wi-Fi.

Interior view of an Earthship home. Main materials: wood, clay and glass bottles

Interior view of an Earthship home. Main materials: wood, clay and glass bottles

Where it all began

Not far from the small American town Taos in the desert of Texas, there is a whole settlement of Earthships. In Reynolds’ vision, the owners can even build them themselves. He has published the necessary construction plans on his website, where they are available to buy. Those who can afford it hire expert help for the time-consuming and complicated construction – or they buy used. One of the houses in the small settlement – a three-room dwelling, built in 2004, that has a greenhouse and covers 150 square metres – was sold for the tidy sum of 499,000 US dollars. Another Earthship is still on the market – with an asking price of 950,000 US dollars. At least the buyer will get a separate apartment and 8,000 square metres of land for their money. That’s rather expensive when you bear in mind that providing affordable accommodation was one of the main aims behind Earthship homes.

Reynolds recognises that the buildings are “much more complex than a conventional building shell”. But the spiralling prices make him angry as well. “We’re looking for ways to scale production. Like in the automotive industry,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Earthship homes in Germany

Ever so slowly, the Earthship trend for alternative, self-sufficient living is arriving in Germany. But to date the project run by the Schloss Tempelhof Community in Kreßberg, Baden-Württemberg, is the only one of its kind in the country. Around 150 people live there in construction trailers or small tent-like houses. The Schloss Tempelhof Community’s centrepiece since 2015 has been Germany’s first Earthship. Extending across an area of 155 square metres, it provides a living and dining room and a communal kitchen, plus showers and toilets, for 25 people. The project’s total price: 300,000 euros.

But the community’s project is still unique in Germany. This is largely due to the many obstacles in German construction law. It was only thanks to creative and sympathetic authorities and municipal departments that the community managed to get approval for their Earthship. But they had to accept a compromise: The project was allowed to go ahead only with a connection to the public water supply and sewerage system.

A real alternative or a pipe dream?

Living as self-sufficiently as possible, sustainably and in harmony with nature – this meets the needs of our time. It makes Earthships an interesting concept for many people who are questioning conventional ways of living and building homes. This can be clearly seen from the community project in Kreßberg, but also in other European countries. In the Netherlands, for example, 23 of the autarkic buildings have been constructed based on Reynolds’ vision.

But Earthship homes are not a realistic alternative in Germany – the resistance from many building authorities is too great. Yet it is examples like these that show that we need to rethink and create more space for alternative concepts.

You’ll find lots of space for creative ideas at the next edition of imm cologne – register now to exhibit at imm cologne 2024 .