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The birth of a new living organism: Indonesia's first Earthship


The Jakarta Post

Gili Kenawa, West Nusa Tenggara  /  Tue, January 24, 2017  /  04:41 pm
The birth of a new living organism: Indonesia's first Earthship

Color play: All the bottles, tires and mud are turned into a totally sustainable four to five-star residence that takes care of its guests. (Eco Regions Indonesia/File)

The sun is high in the sky in Gili Kenawa, West Sumbawa, West Nusa Tenggara.

As we approach the shore on board a small traditional jukung boat, the whole island can be admired in a single glance.

The view is picture perfect; a green soft hill overlooks almost 14 hectares of inhabited land surrounded by pristine waters teeming with marine life.

However, we are not here on a snorkeling trip. We came to follow the construction of the first Earthship in Indonesia.

The project is part of Eco Regions Indonesia, a sustainable and comprehensive development program of over 20,000-ha of island forest, reefs and beaches in Lombok and Sumbawa.

The master plan addresses eco-tourism development, environmental performance, the needs of the local community and sustainable economic development, with the aim to create Asia’s largest eco-region.

In Gili Kenawa, the partnership between Eco Regions and Earthship plans to jointly create Southeast Asia’s first Earthship academy and Earthship resort. Starting in December 2016, a minimum of 44 Earthships will be built under a three-year period.

(Read also: Protected waterbirds found in Ketapang, indicating healthy wetlands)

Bird's-eye view: Spreading almost 14 hectares of unspoiled tropical beauty, Gili Kenawa is a 15-minute boat ride from Poto Tano and part of the Gili Balu district in Poto Tano village, West Sumbawa.(Eco Regions Indonesia/File)

The idea to use garbage, local and recycled materials to build a self-sufficient building that takes care of its inhabitants and exists in harmony with the surrounding environment is the concept behind the Earthship.

The father of the Earthship movement, Mike Reynolds, has been building these passive, off-the-grid sustainable homes for almost 40 years worldwide, adapting their sustainable design and use to various weather conditions and contexts.

“I think real sustainability involves six aspects of humanity,” the 72-year-old architect said during a break from the construction site.

“First, humans need comfortable shelter that doesn’t use fuel.” he explained.

“We all need electricity and water, and all societies need to do something with sewage and the garbage they produce. Last but not least, everybody needs food.”

These, he said, are six things that all of humanity has to address to have a life today. “We’re trying to make a building that addresses all of these six things, all the time, all over the world. That’s what this building will be,” Reynolds says.

(Read also: Simple solution for greener earth)

Work in progress: Architect Mike Reynolds introduces one of the sustainable homes in West Sumbawa, West Nusa Tenggara.(Eco Regions Indonesia/File)

Brooke, one of the over 50 volunteers as part of the construction team, said the arrival was a bit of a shock.

“The heat, the sun, the people, the enthusiasm. Overwhelming, beautiful,” she said as she wiped off sweat and dust from her smiley face.

“Two weeks into the project, we have adapted and now we are a tight team of sustainable warriors coming from across the world to learn from Mike Reynolds.”

The construction team is completed by the Earthship specialized team and a group of local workers, who will train other local teams for future construction when the volunteers and the Earthship team leave.

“This is the first of such buildings in Indonesia,” proudly said Agus, a local worker from Poto Tano and among the first locals to be trained in Earthship construction. “There are old tires and plastic bottles everywhere, so it’s good to learn how to make strong buildings with this.” he added.

Tires stuffed with compressed soil create mass, plastic and glass bottles isolate the building and decorate it; electrical energy is harnessed from the sun and the wind, water from the rain and the treatment of grey waters, which in turn waters gardens around the Earthship. All the bottles tires and mud turn into a totally sustainable four to-five star residence.

Glass wall: The Earthship team installs all the glass, tin and plastic waste they produced during their stay into the building. (Eco Regions Indonesia/File)

The building under construction is less than 20 degree Celsius inside, while the outdoor temperature is unbearable.

Brooke explained the mass creates a microclimate and pipes on the facade absorb external air, which is cooled down as it enters and circulates in the building, creating a natural airflow without the use of conventional air-cooling devices.

A workshop on this breeze-maker system is scheduled for March 2017, when the second stage of the Earthship project will take place.

“I have been living in an Earthship for more than 40 years,” Reynolds said, adjusting his hat under the hot sun.

“My office is an Earthship, my house is an Earthship. When I am hungry, I just go into the Earthships, pick bananas, grapes and I eat. I don’t have utility bills; when it rains, I am happy because I have water. But when it’s not raining I am happy too because I have the sun and sun makes electricity. I know that when I use the toilet, I am making soil for the plants.”

He pointed at the septic tank, a hole dug in the earth also packed with tires stuffed with soil.

“Every part of your daily life routine is contributing to your daily life routine and the Earth. All of a sudden you are in harmony with the Earth, because on the planet there is all the energy we need,” he concluded, and climbed the ladder to finish placing some glass bottles in the top part of the building.

The sun is low on the horizon when the team stops working and gathers in front of the Earthship under construction. Their clothes covered with dirt, they all look tired but happy, their eyes shining under layers of sweat and a red face kissed by the tropical sun. Each one has a different story and background but shares the common dream to spread the culture of sustainable construction and sustainable living.