Inside One Renegade Architect’s Quest to Build the World’s Most Sustainable Home

Earthship walls are often curved, sometimes as a design choice to absorb heat throughout the day—a thermal energy tactic—and sometimes shaped by their recycled tire or aluminum can structures.

After Michael Reynolds graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1969, he went to the Taos high desert in New Mexico. There, the Kentucky-born architect began to experiment with recycled materials, building dwellings that looked eerily otherworldly, as if they had touched down from outer space. In reality, Reynolds’s structures—Earthships—are the exact opposite: they rise out of the earth itself, and are built from materials that would otherwise be discarded. Tires, cans, and bottles mottle the buildings’ surfaces, which arch and slope to mimic the surrounding landscape of jagged mountains and swaths of desert. Travelers driving along Earthship Way—where the Greater World Earthship Community still resides today—might stumble upon a mosaic wall made from discarded beer cans or a house constructed from used tires. These structures have evolved significantly in the decades since Reynolds built the Thumb House, his first “beer-can home,” and later patented his method of aluminum can construction in 1973. 

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