The first signs of greenery on the scorched Victorian landscape shone like a beacon of hope for the thousands who lost their loved ones, livelihoods and homes in the Black Saturday fires of 2009. Almost three years on, nature’s resilience and its ability to regenerate has inspired growth in another area – green housing.
Build it Back Green (BIBG) is a global movement that encourages natural-disaster victims to reduce their carbon footprint when they rebuild. Green Cross International established the first site of its kind in 2005 after the widespread devastation of hurricane Katrina. The Victorian BIBG website was launched at the Green Cities Conference in Melbourne earlier this year. The website provides eco-friendly information and expert advice for the thousands who lost their homes during the Black Saturday fires, encouraging them to rebuild in a safe and sustainable way.
“We talk about resilience and sustainability in the same breath at Green Cross; we call it eco-resilience,” says Green Cross CEO Mara Bún.
“There’s no point in building a home that has high-energy performance but doesn’t address the specific hazards of the particular location.”
Jam-packed with ecological advice, information about local, state and federal rebates and links to more than 500 suppliers, the site is a great go-to guide for anyone contemplating a green build or makeover. Bún says some residents have embraced the opportunity to rebuild green more enthusiastically than others. She singles out Kinglake Ranges Community Recovery Committee member and local resident Daryl Taylor as “one of the true partners we have in Kinglake around this work”. Taylor and his wife, Lucy, were among the thousands of homeowners who lost property on February 7, 2009. Their road to rebuilding began on the other side of the world when Taylor visited the Earthship Biotecture world headquarters in Taos, New Mexico, last August.
Before the fires, Taylor was “familiar with the building style” of renegade architect Michael Reynolds, whose unique Earthship designs feature in the 2007 documentary Garbage Warrior. Taylor’s passing interest became a passion when he saw the integrated systems used in the buildings in operation and was able to speak to Earthship occupants. “I realised that this was far and away the best fireproof option we could find.” Reynolds’ approach to architecture is unconventional. He lives and breathes the adage that one man’s trash in another man’s treasure. Using 45 per cent recycled materials, he begins the “biotecture” process with a negative carbon footprint.
Using materials that most of us would discard, including old tyres, plastic bottles and cans, he creates sustainable stained-glass windows and structural elements that are environmentally friendly and surprisingly attractive. These self-contained buildings provide “off-grid living”, an increasingly attractive option as energy prices rise. “The beauty of Earthships is that they are a totally self-reliant system; they process their own waste and produce their own energy. They don’t require any electricity or any heating because they hold heat because of the passive design,” says Taylor. After his visit to New Mexico, Taylor began to see how the bushfire crisis presented an opportunity to innovate. At an upfront cost of only $30,000 for a one-bedroom dwelling, Earthships offered an affordable alternative for people displaced by fire. As soon as Taylor heard that Reynolds was coming to Melbourne to speak at the Sustainable Living Festival in February next year, he invited Reynolds on a tour of Victoria, which took in some of the fire-affected areas and Melbourne’s environmental park, CERES. Reynolds, who was part of the disaster-recovery effort in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and in India after the 2004 tsunami, was happy to help. In a matter of days Taylor’s dream of building a double Earthship as an “exemplar property” on his land was in full swing.
“Within four days we’d met with a building surveyor, a CSIRO structural engineer and a fellow who has pioneered special blinds to cover glass on catastrophic days,” Taylor says.
Not only could none of these experts fault the Earthship, but the CSIRO expert was so impressed that “he wants to build one on his new property”.
The Kinglake couple have building approval for their double Earthship and Taylor is confident they will get planning approval soon. Reynolds and his team will return in January next year to begin work on the house and Taylor’s “Resilience and Regenerative Systems School”.
“Because Australia doesn’t have any Earthships that have been through a council-planning process this is going to be a precedent, so we’ve set up a Biotecture Academy and we’re going to train as many as 100 people before the build in the principles of biotecture.” In the meantime, Taylor has been approached by Grand Designs Australia, which wants to film the four-week build, and work on the CERES “chookship”, which Taylor helped design, has begun. Now he and Reynolds are exploring the possibility of building an Earthship village in Kinglake.
» If you can offer any materials, in-kind support or sponsorship, please contact Daryl Taylor through the Kinglake Earthship Facebook page or via email email@example.com.