Across a two acre stretch in New Mexico, a provocative experiment is taking place. These isn't the kind of test involving nuclear devices that we've come to expect in the desert, but one that attempts to imagine a sustainable society in the aftermath of such weaponry. After all, a post-apocalyptic landscape would require highly sustainable housing, and that's just what designer and ex-athlete Tom Duke has constructed. His unorthodox efforts are the subject of the documentary titled Earthships.
The houses look like futuristic throwbacks; part conventional and part science fiction. They're constructed with items most people disregard as useless trash. Glass bottles are used like bricks, sand filled tires lay the foundation for each structure, aluminum cans decorate the walls and spark a feeling of the majestic when met by the orange rays of the sun.
Inside, the walls are specially designed to absorb sunlight during the day, and expel heat at night. Thriving greenhouses, innovative ventilation systems and rows of windows further ensure constant and comfortable in-door temperatures. Gardens grow bounties of bananas, grapes and figs. Rainwater is collected and stored in wells, and later drained for use in the shower before being transferred to plants, toilets and outdoor vegetation. Yes, in an Earthship, even the toilet water is reusable.
The concept may sound wacky to some, but it's catching on larger pockets of the population, particularly as the modern world seems to veer deeper into chaos. Encouragingly for them, the cost of these houses has decreased substantially. The top-of-the-line model containing all the amenities - a structure known as the BMW of Earthships - sells for roughly the same cost as a traditional family home, but the energy savings incurred over years makes the investment even more appealing.
Duke guides through multiple housing models throughout the course of the film, explaining the special features in each, as well as the philosophies behind their construction. A seemingly average family man with a unique and valuable vision, he flies in the face of conventional wisdom regarding those who live off the grid. As told in Earthships, his story is not one of apocalyptic gloom and doom, but of hope, possibility and life-enhancing innovation.