all aboard the earthship

As we come to terms with Global Warming and climate change, a shift to renewable energy is inevitable.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recently signed into law a sweeping bill that fast tracks the state’s use of renewable energy. The new law sets a standard to produce 50 percent of the state’s energy through renewable sources in the next ten years and 80 percent within the next 20 years.

On a sprawling mesa northwest of Taos, sits the 600-plus-acre (Greater World) Earthship Community, started by Mike Reynolds and Earthship Biotecture.

Earthship at night with stars
Greater World Earthship Community

The community includes more than 300 acres of shared land, and is fully off the grid, using solar and wind power exclusively. Some of the homes, such as the Phoenix, can be rented out by the night. Greater World is very much a work in progress, with a projected 20-year plan to reach completion.

Almost 50 years ago architect Michael Reynolds pioneered the development of these off-the-grid homes, he named Earthships; homes using passive solar technology, wind power, recycled water, old tires, car batteries, glass bottles and every bit of off-the-grid technology available.

A graduate of the University of Cincinnati, he departed from traditional architectural protocols with the inclusion of bio-ecological features into his designs, building a house, incorporating garbage – in the pre-recycling days of 1971.

Reynolds, who maintains that “there was no ‘garbage’ until modern man,” rebelled against the restrictive ideology of his profession by wiring soft drink and beer cans together to form bricks, and using them to construct his home.

The setbacks he encountered along the way did not deter Reynolds, who based his fledgling company here in Northern New Mexico, where he began creating the buildings that combined recycling (a term he allegedly hates along with the words sustainable, green and organic) with a hybrid of proven ancient techniques and modern materials he’s named Biotecture (biology, architecture and physics.)

Over the following decades, his designs continued to evolve, incorporating thermal mass, passive solar energy and natural ventilation in order to respect the environment and to counteract climate change thorough architecture.

inside an earthship

The resulting project was the Earthship we know today; a self-sufficient dwelling built with natural and recycled materials with energy conservation in mind. Designed to produce water, electricity, and food for its own use, Earthships are defined by six basic design principles, all of which take advantage of the existing natural phenomena of the earth: building with natural and repurposed materials, using thermal and solar heating and cooling, solar- and wind-generated electricity, water harvesting, contained sewage treatment and self-sustained food production.

In 2007, Reynolds was the subject of a documentary entitled Garbage Warrior, which remains a great introduction to his philosophy as well as telling the story of several of his building projects in both New Mexico and around the world.

As one nears the community, the first impression for most visitors is that they don’t seem real and that’s if you notice them at all. Coming from the south you may see the sunlight bouncing off windows and some undulating, futuristic forms but when approaching from the north, the structures disappear into the bermed earth from which they’re made, leaving only a small windmill or a turret to signal their existence.

They truly are Earthships; Reynolds’ unique architectural creation that draws simultaneously from the past while envisioning the future. Located in this equally unique community on the high desert plain of Tres Piedras, about thirty minutes from Taos, with an influence that has reached around the world.

Most of the Earthships are single-story structures; long and narrow, with one side generally built into a hill and the other side constructed of glass, with plants often occupying the space between the two walls. Many have whimsical turrets or towers attached, but others are quite simple. Their common denominator is that they were and are, constructed by the homeowners themselves, reflecting their personal style.

Their Hobbit – meets – Blade Runner exteriors aside, many of the interiors of these homes will surprise you with their cosmopolitan sophistication.

To get there, make a right off of Route 64 just west of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. You can take a small self-guided tour with limited access, however for the full tour that includes seeing the interiors of several Earthships, you can book online in advance.

As the Earthship’s popularity continues to soar Internationally with people everywhere beginning to take the reality of climate change seriously, offshoots of Earthship Biotecture continue to pop up, making it easier for more people to build these eco-friendly shelters. One of them is Pangea Builders, founded by Mike Reynolds’ son, Jonah, who literally grew up learning to build them.

Pangea Builders is an educational and research organization providing sustainable buildings for residential, commercial and government use, who partner with Earthship Biotecture, and is also based here in Taos, with ongoing projects Globally.

For much more information about the Earthship community in Taos, booking a tour or signing up for the Academy, where you can learn how to build your own Earthship, please visit the sites linked below.



Written by Lynne Robinson


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