Movie Review: "Garbage Warrior" and Experimental Architect, Michael Reynolds

July 07, 2008 - 16:32 / Submitted by Selin Cinar

Design is evolving, but according to “Garbage Warrior” {2008}, atimely documentary on unconventional architect Michael Reynolds and hisso-called “earthships”,it’s not evolving fast enough. Partly, it’s because the “powers thatbe” are afraid of making mistakes, of learning how to live sustainablythrough trial and error. But can Reynolds’ thirty-year long approach toself-sustaining building – which involves using discarded tires,plastic bottles, old beer cans, rammed earth, rain-harvesting, solarpower and on-site food production – be a feasible solution to the slow development of green building in North America? As director Oliver Hodge shows, the proof is in the pudding: byfollowing Reynolds around {the film itself was three years in themaking}, we can see that Reynolds’ vision of self-sufficient, off-gridliving has been potently realized in the distinctive and eloquent“earthships” nestled in the harsh landscape just outside of Taos, NewMexico. As specimens of an experimental design process, the earthshipscertainly stand in sharp contrast to what conventional housing andarchitecture stand for today, as these houses can literally “take careof themselves.” Completely off-grid,the houses provide food from integrated greenhouses, water from theroofs, greywater recycling, electricity from windmills and solar panelsand passive solar methods of heating and cooling – an impressive featof design that ultimately reconnects their inhabitants with the cyclesand providence of nature.Even more inspiring is the fact that the unique houses are built byand inhabited by individuals just as visionary and determined asReynolds to push the boundaries of living and building sustainably. Thefamilies who initially came to build houses for themselves eventuallyformed the Greater World Communityin 1990, which is now a legal subdivision – but only after Reynolds andthe families navigated several years of legal obstacles set up by ashort-sighted local bureaucracy. Later, the politicking takes on hairy proportions when Reynoldsattempts to garner support for his statewide bill proposing morecitizen freedom in testing alternative building methods. Here, the filmgives a sense of how painfully slow and convoluted the Americanlegislative process can be, and how the political game hides a fearthat drives the persistent denial of climate change, despite allevidence to the contrary.Though Reynold’s forthright manner and clear distaste forbureaucratic “horsesht” may not endear him to some, his sense ofurgency and tenacity still elicits admiration. Ultimately, the filmproves that a more harmonious way of living and building is already outthere – and very, very possible.

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