Reynolds builds off-grid school

Michael Reynolds, the US architecture behind 'earthships' passive solar buildings
Mike Reynolds – US earthships architect – passive solar buildings

Where better to teach the next generation to be eco-friendly and self-sufficient than inside an off-grid school? This may be the future thanks to Michael Reynolds. The 70-year-old Taos-based American architect, – also known as the “garbage warrior” for his long career in building self-sufficient projects with discarded products – is the brains behind the school in Uruguay.

The brand new primary school which opened its’ classroom doors only a few months ago is Located in Uruguay,Jaureguiberry, a tiny community of 500 inhabitants an hour’s drive east of the capital Montevideo. The building is made of tires and glass and plastic bottles, is off the grid and non-polluting. The school produces no waste and has it’s very own compost-fed kitchen garden brims with basil, tomatoes, strawberries, and chard. On the roof, rainwater is collected then filtered before it is used in the garden or the toilets.

The teachers have special training so they can adapt their courses by tying them to respect for the environment and the responsible use of the building and its energy.

The school’s director comments on the energy storage unit which powers the school for all the pupils and staff: “We are doing fine, with a more than 50 percent charge only from solar energy,” said Alicia Alvarez, 51.

The school opened in March to children between the ages of three and 12, it claims to be the first public school in Latin America that is totally green. The school currently has 39 students but can accommodate 100. The project, supported by a local charity and a detergent company, is estimated to have cost $300,000, according to Uruguayan media.

The school is completely unplugged, not connected to the electricity grid in any way.

From the outside, its environmental bona fides are evident: colorful recycled tires at the entrance, solar panels covering its roofs, big windows overlooking kitchen gardens. A sight sure to put a smile on any off-gridders face!

Reynolds developed what he calls “Earthship Biotecture” — buildings designed to independently sustain human life.

He has built “Earthships” all over the world, from the US state of New Mexico (where he currently lives) and Easter Island in Chile to Ushuaia in Argentina and Sierra Leone.

“People called me an idiot: building with garbage, what a fool, you’re a disgrace to the architectural community,” he told AFP in an interview.

“You know, I was trying to contain sewage and treat it and do all of these things that architects didn’t do.”

But how did he make his latest masterpiece? It took about 2,000 tyres, 3,000 glass bottles, 1,500 plastic bottles and 12,000 cans. They were put together with wood, glass, and cement to fashion the new school.

When speaking to students at the colourful school, it was clear they were all very happy to be there.
“It’s a school full of life,” said a smiling Paula, seven, who was concocting with her friends a list of things to do, and not to do, to take care of the planet.

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