Movie Review: "Garbage Warrior" and Experimental Architect, Michael Reynolds

michael reynolds
Design is evolving, but according to "Garbage Warrior" (2008), a timely documentary on unconventional architect Michael Reynolds and his so-called "earthships", it's not evolving fast enough. Partly, it's because the "powers that be" are afraid of making mistakes, of learning how to live sustainably through trial and error. But can Reynolds' thirty-year long approach to self-sustaining building — which involves using discarded tires, plastic bottles, old beer cans, rammed earth, rain-harvesting, solar power and on-site food production — be a feasible solution to the slow development of green building in North America?

As director Oliver Hodge shows, the proof is in the pudding: by following Reynolds around (the film itself was three years in the making), we can see that Reynolds' vision of self-sufficient, off-grid living has been potently realized in the distinctive and eloquent "earthships" nestled in the harsh landscape just outside of Taos, New Mexico.

earthship visitor's centre

As specimens of an experimental design process, the earthships certainly stand in sharp contrast to what conventional housing and architecture stand for today, as these houses can literally "take care of themselves." Completely off-grid, the houses provide food from integrated greenhouses, water from the roofs, greywater recycling, electricity from windmills and solar panels and passive solar methods of heating and cooling — an impressive feat of design that ultimately reconnects their inhabitants with the cycles and providence of nature.

earthship interior garden

Even more inspiring is the fact that the unique houses are built by and inhabited by individuals just as visionary and determined as Reynolds to push the boundaries of living and building sustainably. The families who initially came to build houses for themselves eventually formed the Greater World Community in 1990, which is now a legal subdivision — but only after Reynolds and the families navigated several years of legal obstacles set up by a short-sighted local bureaucracy.

Later, the politicking takes on hairy proportions when Reynolds attempts to garner support for his statewide bill proposing more citizen freedom in testing alternative building methods. Here, the film gives a sense of how painfully slow and convoluted the American legislative process can be, and how the political game hides a fear that drives the persistent denial of climate change, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Though Reynold's forthright manner and clear distaste for bureaucratic "horsesh*t" may not endear him to some, his sense of urgency and tenacity still elicits admiration. Ultimately, the film proves that a more harmonious way of living and building is already out there — and very, very possible.

::Garbage Warrior website (see the trailer here)

Related Links on Earthships and "Biotechture"
Earthships: Self-Sustaining Homes
The Dirt on Rammed Earth
Sorry, Out of Gas--Visited
Images: Earthship Kirsten, camerashymomma and Lynnola on flickr

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