Yes we are building an EARTHSHIP!
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After being the very fortunate recipients of a Capital Infrastructure Grant from the BC government in the spring of this year, the Robson Valley Music Society deliberated for a couple of months on how best to proceed. The grant was a one-time-only offer for the construction of "Creative Spaces" in rural communities. In our original application, we had no intention of proceeding with rammed earth construction as none of us on the board had any previous experience with such a model. However after much deliberation we decided that of all the methods of construction researched, the earthship concept promised to be the most efficient in terms of sustainable maintenance of living systems over the long term. It also promised to provide the largest share of income generation back into the community during the construction phase.
For those unfamiliar with the "earthship" concept, I would like to refer readers to "earthship biotecture.com". Earthships are the brain-child of cutting-edge architect: Michael Reynolds. Based in Taos New Mexico, Mr. Reynolds has been pioneering this innovative, cost-effective and sustainable housing technique since the seventies. (for an informative documentary see:"The Garbage Warrior") At the root of Earthship construction is the use of automobile tires as rammed earth building blocks. The tires are filled with earth and compacted in place in an inter-locking pattern to form 350 lb bricks stacked in succession all the way to the roof. The walls act as both the foundation and the wall itself. They are laid out in "U modules" to a maximum dimension of 18' wide by 26' deep. The houses are then buried on three sides with compacted earth. The front of the earthship is all glass angled at precisely 90 degrees to the winter sun. The entire structure must face south/southeast to take advantage of the maximum amount of solar gain possible in winter months.
The earthship is designed to collect it's own water, grow it's own food, heat and cool itself with passive air exchange and recycle all grey water through the planting beds in the greenhouse. It is also making excellent use of a serious waste product: Tires!!
Having read through Mike Reynolds first book "How to Build an Earthship" and having experimented with the construction of an earthship style greenhouse foundation(which still isn't finished) I figured I had enough information to begin.
Originally we had planned to replace the existing "Jam Shack" (the original structure built on the property in 1942 ) by building adjacent to it and then tearing down the old one after the new facility was complete. Upon further reflection we decided there would be too much impact to the limited amount of space available on the festival site and that a construction arena was not something we wanted festival goers to have to navigate. Having re-visited our budget we realized that based on the cost-effectiveness of earthship construction, we could afford to allot some of the construction budget towards site excavation and road construction. During late July we set a crew to work falling and brushing the site which was followed by two days of road construction by heavy machinery. We now had one of the most stunningly beautiful views in the valley at exactly the right aspect to the winter sun travel path!
There was a temporary shut-down of the project while our staff prepared and hosted the 9th annual Robson Valley Music Festival in August. We then had to wait until the end of September before we were able to get in an excavator to dig into the hill at our building site and prepare the ground.
Finally at the beginning of October 2013, we began construction of the Earthship studio. Through consultation with the owner builders of the only other completed earthship in BC (darfieldearthship.com) I learned of an ingenious method to compact tires without the traditional back-breaking labor intensities of swing sledge-hammers all day. We built a hydraulic compactor out of a cylinder and DC powered hydraulic motor and valve. One of our builders(Mark Cowan) is also a welder and he fabricated two c-shaped brackets on the ends of the cylinder. The cylinder was simply inserted into the dirt-filled tire and activated. Dirt was then squished into submission tighter than you could ever hope to do with a hammer, and with WAY less effort.
The project continued through all manner of fall and early winter weather up until the temperature dropped to -20 degrees Celsius on November the 17th. At this point we have finished our fifth level of tires for three rooms. The total building footprint is 48 feet by 23 feet. The attached greenhouse will add another six to eight feet to the front of the structure. I was well impressed that we got as far as we did considering the difficulty accessing the site at times, the weather and the small size of our crew(2-5 people averaging 8 hrs a day 4-5 days a week.)
This building will be used primarily as a recording studio, as well as an artist retreat available for artists from all over B.C., Canada and the World. We will be taking advantage of the warm acoustics for sound and the incredibly inspirational environment our valley has to offer with its location of serene beauty.
The Robson Valley Music Society also holds an annual music festival in August every year, and we hope to cross promote these two facets of our society to successfully keep up with our mandate to bring culture into our community.
We plan to continue with the earthship project as soon as possible in the spring, but at this time we have no completion date . Stay tuned! For detailed photos and youtube play-by-play action throughout the construction and to find out about other things we are up to, please check out the rest of this web site
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