When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September of 2017, the U.S. territory was devastated. Streets turned to rivers, houses washed away, and electricity would be scarce for months to come. Though they have struggled without competent government aid, Puerto Rican residents have displayed their resilience to the rest of the world as they continue to rebuild, mostly on their own, after the natural disaster.
In response to the ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico, architect Michael Reynolds launched phase one of Puerto Rico Disaster Relief, a project executed by Biotecture Planet Earth in February of 2018. This ongoing project will build a series of self-sufficient and hurricane-resistant structures, which will ultimately serve as a school and community center in Aguada, Puerto Rico.
Known as “earthships,” these off-grid structures repurpose tires, bottles, and other unrecycled debris into temperature-stabilized homes. They provide wind protection, renewable electricity, sewage treatment, clean water, and sustainable, on-site food production. After a dearth of support from the United States government, earthships can offer Puerto Ricans a self-sufficient lifestyle without the need to rely on municipal resources or government aid.
Earthships’ off-grid nature offers a solution, ensuring that its residents have all basic needs met: weather protection, heat, electricity, food, and clean water. Not only that, but these structures also offer lower costs of living and environmental symbiosis.
For Michael Reynold and Biotecture Planet Earth, building earthships to create autonomous, thriving communities is nothing new. In February 2015, the Earthship Crew partnered with local nonprofits in Leyte Island, Philippines to create an aerodynamic and resilient structure in response to Typhoon Haiyan.
“They need to rebuild every time there’s a typhoon,” Reynold explains. “Everything just blows away. The idea here was to make a building that would not be damaged in a typhoon.” Three years later, the “windship” now serves as a school and storm shelter for local community members.
With affordable construction costs, autonomous off-grid capacity, and ability to thrive in even the harshest climates, earthships are a realistic housing alternative people worldwide are increasingly adopting. In places most impacted by climate change, places like Puerto Rico and the Philippines, earthships empower people to not only survive massive storms, but also to thrive in the aftermath with clean water, reliable electricity, and sustainable food production.