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Taos is New Mexico True
Taos, NM
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As we come to terms with climate change, a shift to renewable energy is inevitable, and New Mexico has jumped on the bandwagon. In 2019, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Energy Transition Act, which, among other things, puts the state on a track toward carbon neutrality by the year 2045.

But Taos has already been on the road to sustainability since the pre-recycling days of 1971, when architect Michael Reynolds departed from traditional architectural protocols with the inclusion of bioecological features in his designs, building a house that incorporated, essentially, garbage. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati, Reynolds maintains that “there was no ‘garbage’ until modern man.” He 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.

In doing so, Reynolds pioneered the development of off-the-grid homes called Earthships: homes using passive solar technology, wind power, recycled water, old tires, car batteries, glass bottles, and every bit of off-grid technology available.

Bringing Earthships to Life

The road that Reynolds traveled in establishing his fledgling company here in the Taos area wasn’t always smooth, but the setbacks he encountered along the way did not deter Reynolds. He created 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 decades, his designs continued to evolve, incorporating thermal mass, passive solar energy, and natural ventilation to respect the environment and to counteract climate change through architecture.

The resulting project was the Earthships in Taos that we know today: self-sufficient dwellings built with natural and recycled materials and with energy conservation in mind. Designed to collect water and produce electricity and food for their inhabitants’ 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 titled Garbage Warrior, which remains a great introduction to his philosophy as well as telling the story of several of his building projects both in New Mexico and around the world.

The Greater World Earthship Community

Today, on a sprawling mesa northwest of Taos, sits the 600+ acre Greater World Earthship Community, started by Mike Reynolds and Earthship Biotecture.

The community includes more than 300 acres of shared land and is fully off the grid, using exclusively solar and wind power. Some of the Earthships in Taos, 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.

As one nears the community, the first impression for most visitors is that the homes 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.

Reynolds’ unique architectural creation 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, the concept’s influence has reached around the world.

Most of the Earthships in Taos are single-story structures, long and narrow with one side generally built into a hill and the other side constructed of glass to harness the full bounty of the Taos sunlight. Some have whimsical turrets or towers attached, but others are quite simple. Their common denominator is that they were constructed by the homeowners themselves, reflecting their personal style.

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

To get to the Greater World community, 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 in Taos, 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.

If after visiting the Earthships in Taos, you start to envision building your very own Earthship, you can learn how at the Earthship Academy.