Out of this world

Philadelphia is in the process of being approved as the first major U.S. city to house an Earthship – an eco-friendly home composed of recycled materials.

Lu Thain smooths a clay mixture on a tire on the earthship-style greenhouse. | ABI REIMOLD / TTN
Lu Thain smooths a clay mixture on a tire on the earthship-style greenhouse. | ABI REIMOLD / TTN

Even the Big Bad Wolf would think twice before blowing down a house made of tires, recycled lumbers, cans and bottles.

Rashida Ali-Campbell, who once studied biology at Temple, is looking to build an Earthship in Philadelphia through her own company, LoveLovingLove Inc.

Earthships are the brainchild of American architect Michael Reynolds and are a new, sustainable way of living promoted in his film, “Garbage Warrior.”

The structures are made out of recycled materials with thermal and solar temperature control, solar and wind electricity, and contained sewage treatment. The Earthships even have the ability to produce their own food with a pond for fish and areas for different kinds of plant growth during any time of the year.

“The city makes the largest carbon footprint, and it makes sense for this type of structure to be built in a major city, and we’re really sure this will be the beginning of something beautiful in terms of restabilization,” Ali-Campbell said.

She’s already proposed the idea to various city council members, organizations and universities, including Temple.

Ali-Campbell has been working on the project since about 2008 but is getting closer to breaking ground. She has the support as well as negotiated plans for its first building and now just needs the land to receive a permit, which she will likely get within a year’s time.

Though it’s been a long time in the making, once Ali-Campbell’s team starts building, the Earthship will be done in seven to eight weeks. It would be the first Earthship in a major city.

Currently there are hundreds around the world, Ali-Campbell said.

She got the idea to build one after watching Reynolds’ documentary.

“I was so inspired, because I felt like this answered so many questions and so many problems we have in Philly,” she said.

Among these problems she said, are the cost of living, housing and the abundance of recycled materials that are found abandoned on the sides of the road. The latter is the foundation of building these Earthships, Ali-Campbell said. She said she hopes once this Earthship is built, it will be the start of a “revolution” to build more.

She said she found it interesting that there is so much abandoned land with material to build, but no one has taken the initiative yet. Ali-Campbell said she believes the city is in need of a “real-estate revolution.”

“This project is important to me, because Philadelphia has so much potential with vacant land,” she said.

Building an Earthship is expensive, more than $100,000, but this is because of the cost of labor, not materials, Ali-Campbell said.

She added that some vacant lots have as many as 75 to 100 useable tires. She gets cans, bottles and lumber from different recycling centers in the city.

Though other Earthships are used as homes, Ali-Campbell said she plans for this one to act more as a school called the Earthship Philadelphia Embassy as well as a welcome center, so people can learn more about the structure and how to start their own. Ali-Campbell said this type of setup is similar to the one in New Mexico called the Phoenix.

“The timing is perfect for regular people to learn how to build this house if [they are] able to secure land,” she said.

LoveLovingLove was founded in 2007 and has done more than get logistics straightened for building Earthships, Ali-Campbell.

“Our mission is to heal impoverished communities with holistic opportunities and love,” she said.

They’ve also been working on an Earthship-style greenhouse in Kensington, located at 2312 Emerald St., as well as in Kimberton, Pa.

“All of these are demonstrations to get people to embrace [the] Earthship model,” she said.

Mira Kim, a horticulture student at Temple, is very much aware of the Earthship and has also volunteered with building Earthship-style structures at the Village of Arts and Humanities on Germantown Avenue with Philly Earth.

Lu Thain (left) and Eva Bryant apply a mixture of clay, concrete and paper shreds to an earthship greenhouse that is part of the garden at the Villiage of Arts and Humanities. | ABI REIMOLD / TTN
Lu Thain (left) and Eva Bryant apply a mixture of clay, concrete and paper shreds to an earthship greenhouse that is part of the garden at the Villiage of Arts and Humanities. | ABI REIMOLD / TTN

She recognizes the need for an environmental movement and said it’s a generational need to be doing something newer and better for the planet.

“I think there’s definitely an unprecedented move toward being more environmentally friendly and being more aware of the fact that there’s limited resources,” she said.

Kim said she views the Earthship as an “off-the-grid” type of living and is excited to watch its development.

“I think it’s encouraging, and I think it’s great to be in a city that has such an initiative to have its citizens to be more aware of the things they’re doing and how those things impact their environment,” she said.

Kim said she is also interested to see how the Earthship will last in a city where it’s more common for resources to be brought in rather than created in that environment.

“I think it’s interesting – the many different ways sustainability is manifesting itself,” she said.

In the future, two events will be hosted to spread more awareness for the Earthship. “Beyond Conventional Dwellings: What Sustainable Options Exist for Challenged Communities?” with Jonah Reynolds and Bridgette Meinhold will by held on May 23 from 5:30-8 p.m. at the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

A viewing of “Garbage Warrior” with another discussion with Reynolds will be held on May 24 from 7-10 p.m. at the Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia, 1906 S. Rittenhouse Square. Admission is $10.

For any interest in volunteering on the Earthship project once it breaks ground, contact Ali-Campbell at lovelovinglove@gmail.com.

Patricia Madej can be reached at patricia.madej@temple.edu.

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