I read your last column about water harvesting techniques and saw the video you linked to about Michael Reynolds and Earthships. Very inspiring stuff. Have you heard about the Earthship planned for the Lower East side in NYC? What do you think about it?
Ben, Long Island City
When news broke recently about the Earthship planned for the Lower East Side, I wasn't sure what to think. At first I thought, 'Wow, that's great.' I respect what Garbage Warrior and Earthship founder Michael Reynolds stands for and his whole history of questioning unsustainable “norms.” He has stated: “I discovered early on that architecture needs to embody the needs of people. Most architects have impractical ideas that are wasteful.” But when seeing sketches of the building design, I thought applying the Earthship building system approach into a narrow space between two taller buildings might not make so much sense. Part of me finds the use of vertical space above the two-story Earthship a bit “wasteful” in terms of maximizing amount of “urban infill”.
It's vital to design buildings like Earthships which function “independently.” But with new technologies on the horizon like Artificial Leaves which could enable every home to be self- powered via a solar-hydrogen combination, or revolutionary solar powered windows like those by Phythagoras Solar, or roof top greenhouses like Sky Vegetables, -- it might be possible to get a few more dwelling units out of that precious urban lot and still have the structure self sufficient like Earthships manage to do. David Roth at gbNYC told me: “I'm fairly bullish on Earthships in general. The more I've read about Earthships, the more impressive I've found them -- but building one on a narrow lot between six-story buildings on the Lower East Side just... I don't know.......”
What's astonishing is how the Lower East Side has become so gentrified from its crime ridden poverty days. It wasn't that long ago that you potentially took your life in your hand if you lived there. Hopefully, soon you'll be able to listen to a location specific audio tour on your iPod, on your way to see how the self contained waste system irrigates the greenhouse at the neighborhood EarthShip NYC. It's interesting to note that while Earthship waste recycling is brilliant - NYC is also planning to make gas out of its sewage waste. Thus renewable ideas like turning waste into power, are soon to be applied on a city level, opening up the possibility that the municipality as a whole could function as one large “Earthship.”
To conclude, I love the idea of Earthship NYC even if just as a kind of architecture as building performance art: a functional green sculpture fitting in to the Manhattan landscape. I'd move there in a New York minute if I could. And I'd open it up to the public to give tours of this living showcase of sustainability, just like owner, Ken Ruck wants to do. Many will follow how the building approval process for Earthship NYC unfolds at the New York Department of Buildings. Roth at gbNYC commented: “Michael Reynolds is very sure it can work. The biggest issue is going to be codes and the Department of Buildings in general, and I anticipate that being a very big issue indeed.” I do hope that the city expedites and facilitates working with Michael Reynolds and Ken Ruck. Because no matter what you think of the Earthship in this specific location, we are all lucky to have this kind of civic engagement. Hopefully all of NYC will transform into an “Earthship” and become like the magnificent star ships we've been waiting to land on earth. --Paul
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