In December 2019, Taos architect Mike Reynolds made a rare appearance in a local emergency room and learned his days on the planet are numbered.
Rather than despair, Reynolds applied the same logical approach he's used all his life to global health issues like homelessness, garbage and the destruction of the world by politics, corporations and careless humans to his own mortality. Reynolds decided it was time to cut back on the margaritas, embrace a rigorous herbal supplement protocol and instead of heading out in the morning to pound tires he's juicing carrots. "Every day is precious, not one to waste," he said.
Reynolds sat at his desk at the Earthship Biotecture global office in Tres Piedras, where daily he fields calls from all over the world asking for his earthship expertise. A concept he refers to as "logical living that does not depend on economy, politics and infrastructure." The only caveat these days he said is that "building permits and red tape must be minimal. I may not have two years to wait around for permission to build."
Reynolds is a wiry solution-oriented man with a firm handshake a keen intellect and an insatiable curiosity about what makes things tick following the laws of nature, but not always the laws of man. He has carved out, or rather pounded out, a life building earthships all over the world starting with the first in Taos.
He said the spark for this direction came in the early 70s after listening to a Walter Cronkite newscast about steel beer cans littering the country creating a garbage problem. On the same newscast there was a story on clear-cutting timber for housing and the prediction there would be an erosion and oxygen problem.
Reynolds was living in Taos fresh out of architectural school. After the Cronkite newscast he thought in logical sequence, "if we want trees, and we don't want cans, and we have billions of cans, why don't we try building out of cans and not trees, save the trees, solve the can problem?" He invented a building block made of beer cans and made a house out of it. That began the movement of recognizing garbage as something more than landfills.
Most ridiculed him in the architecture community. "This was before recycling was a word. I made a lot of enemies by building out of garbage." He reasoned that when you consider garbage "like glass bottles, aluminum cans and tires, they don't go away ever, though they're made better than most of the manufacturing building products of our time. So I'm building with materials society calls garbage which are indigenous to the entire planet."
One thing led to another: "I started building out of cans, then I started building out of bottles with the cans and then tires, then science started talking about thermal mass being built into building, so when you pack tires with dirt you get thermal mass, that holds energy, holds temperature."
Another news media broadcast about water shortages. Reynolds "took that fear of water shortage and started catching water on the roofs." He said he was 'just responding to what the media said about future problems and I ended up with a building that solves all those problems."
Around the same time another idea percolated for Reynolds. "There are homeless people all over cities, I was thinking about Chicago where I'd just been. They have these million-dollar sculptures by Picasso out in front of the bank, and big steel structures called 'art' that cost a fortune to build, yet they've got all these homeless people living in the streets. Why don't we make sculpture that people can live in? If you spend millions of dollars, give some people homes while you're at it. Combine the two issues like I was combining garbage and clear cutting timber. So that was an idea and now we're going around the world doing that."
Reynolds just returned from Puerto Rico building a villa called Rivendell. "It is a sculpture that people live in that is not going to get blown away by a hurricane or torn down by an earthquake," he said. "It has all of its utilities built in, and doesn't need corporations or government to provide for it."
To date there are earthship projects all over the planet, and a rigorous earthship academy that has trained thousands of people from all over the world about the six ways of living a harmonious life and how to get there. Food, energy, clean water, shelter, garbage management and sewer treatment.
Reynolds said the source of inspiration beyond issues broadcast on the daily news is what he calls "an inverted inspiration. Things that inspire me are looking up in a city through a spider web of wires and dirty sky, and that makes me want to dig in and work harder. Seeing all around the world, which I have traveled, sewage pipes dump into bays and rivers and lagoons with raw and ill-treated sewage - those kinds of things are inspirational in a way because they're horrible to see but they cause me to want to do something. I would call all the negative things I see on this planet inspirational because they cause me to want to do something."
He said he's always been inspired by nature rather than people. "The more you get to know a tree, the more inspired you get."
I asked Reynolds what wisdom he could pass on about sustainable living in the high desert. "It's clear that the human impact on the planet is unnatural, detrimental and downright scary. It's only logical for us to seek things like the sun and gravity and the phenomenon of the planet, the physics and biology of the planet. It is only logical for us to look at that because we all see corporations and governments are not providing for people effectively. They are all about power and money.
"Direct living from heat and energy from the sun, water from the sky - these things are only logical and secure. I look at the Earthship concept as providing, like a good virus, a pathway of information and knowledge on how every man woman and child on the planet could access what we call sustainable living, but I call it logical living."
Earthship Biotecture Academy sessions begin in April. For more information, visit earthshipbiotecture.com
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