Power and Houses To the People: Can Haiti Be Rebuilt with Old Tires and Heart?

Dirt-filled tires, plastic bottles, rebar and heart could be the recipe for solving the shelter problem for the million or more homeless survivors of the Haiti earthquake. The buildings, called Earthships, provide solid, environmentally sound housing at low cost; best of all, they can be built by the Haitians themselves.

Last month a team from Earthships went to Haiti for a reconnaissance trip to find out how they could help with a sustainable rebuilding of the devastated  country. Within an hour of landing,on a plot donated by NGO Grassroots United, they started building a demonstration model Earthship, with the help of 40 Haitians, ages four to 50, from one of the tent camps, In just four days they had built an Earthship out of 120 used tires, recycled plastic bottles gathered by local kids, rebar and a little cement. Reynolds and his team hope that the Earthship can serve as a model, a prototype for homes that can withstand earthquakes and hurricanes, replacing the temporary and weather-vulnerable tent camps that still abound in Port au Prince.

This video shows how they built the first Haitian Earthship:

The skills and materials needed for the construction are at hand in the country, fostering self-reliance without corporate interference, and a model that can be replicated in Haiti and elsewhere. The Earthship team plans to return this fall to add systems that will help the house collect its own water, contain and treat sewage, and have its own energy system based on solar power.

Over the years architect and Earthship creator Michael Reynolds has built over 1,000 homes from materials  that most people consider waste. Inspired by news stories of garbage and deforestation in the 1970s, he began experimenting with building homes out of natural or reused materials, and added energy and waste treatment systems that make the houses into self-contained homes.

There is a group of Earthships in New Mexico and other models across the U.S., but the world has been slow to embrace this unusual building style. In a Wall Street Journal article from 2009, Reynolds pointed to the bureaucratic impediments to innovation in architecture, “We’re building homes today that don’t draw from the grid and have a $100 per year total utility bill. And they have flat screen TVs, broadband Internet and all the other comforts. The reason why more people are not doing it is because it takes forever for somebody doing a radical green project to get a permit.”

Perhaps healing a disaster area will bring the concept of Earthships to the mainstream.

Photo: from Youtube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbkOpBgk-YM&NR=1

121 comments

Brian F.
Brian F7 years ago

Yes, this is very good, but how about also shipping all unused steel shipping containers to Haite and let the Haitian people transform them to houses.Steel shipping containers are in abundant supply and hold up well to earthquakes and hurricanes as well as being free from termite and insect damage. If we could only find away to ship all unused shipping continairs from our seaports to Haite.

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Bahtyah I.
Bahtyah I.7 years ago

Very good idea. Keep up the good work team!

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Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers7 years ago

I think that it is a great idea to use the skills of the Haitian people to rebuild their communities!! It will give them a sense of pride knowing that they are helping themselves to recover!! No one wants to feel like a "Charity case" !!
Good leadership from the international community should guide and help to put things on track!

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Sue Horwood
.7 years ago

It is good to hear an uplifting story about Haiti. Anyone who is homeless would welcome a safe place to live. Let's hope this project gets going really soon.

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Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W7 years ago

thank you

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Jai B.
Jai B.7 years ago

Re: use of tires. Check out earthship.com off/gassing, especially the engineer who talks of photodegradation. Sealed in the walls, tires should pose no problem.

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Patrick Whyte
Patrick Whyte7 years ago

thanks

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Patrick Whyte
Patrick Whyte7 years ago

interesting

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Patrick Whyte
Patrick Whyte7 years ago

good idea

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Michael Kirkby
.7 years ago

What a fantastic idea. You know part of the problem with Haiti, apart from the corruption in government, is the lack of trees. The trees have all been cut down. Look how green the Dominican Republic is in comparison. What did they do differently? Trees provide natural windbreaks; help to regulate the climate.

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