Exploring the innovative Dutch ‘Earthship’ eco-village in Olst, we delve into whether this unique community could indeed represent the future of sustainable living.
Earthship ecovillage in Olst
In Olst, in the Dutch province of Overijssel, about 8 km (5 miles) north of Deventer, there is an ecological village with 24 earth houses, all inspired by American biotect (bio-architect) Michael Reynold’s earthships.
Earthships are predicated upon the idea that there are six human needs which can be addressed through environmentally sustainable building design:
- Energy: Thermal and/or solar heating and cooling, solar and wind electricity
- Garbage management: Reuse and recycling built into construction and daily living
- Sewage treatment: Self-contained sewage treatment and water recycling
- Shelter: Building with natural and recycled materials
- Clean Water: Water harvesting and long term storage
- Food: In-home organic food production capability
All houses have large south-facing windows. This ensures that it is never colder than 15°C (59°F) in the house, even during the coldest months. Photo: Vereniging Aardehuizen Oost Nederland.
Builders of the EarthVillage in Olst have shown that living together with nature is very feasible
About 20 years ago, the idea of an ecological neighbourhood with earthen houses arose. This idea came over from America, where earth houses are better known as Earthships. Where there are already several ecological residential areas in the Netherlands, the village in Olst is the first with only earthen houses. The fact that the Municipality of Olst and Wijhe are collaborating on this is unique, and a hopeful sign for the future.
The earth houses are built from recycled and natural materials. For example, the walls consist of car tyres and clay. This combination of materials ensures that the heat in the house remains well inside. All houses have large windows on the south, so that it is never colder than 15 degrees in the house, even in the coldest period. Besides the desire to build the houses sustainably, there is also the desire to be self-sufficient. For example, all houses contain solar panels, solar collectors and an ecological toilet.
It is immediately noticeable that there are no fences between the houses, there are no stone streets and the roofs are glowing green. People do not define their own areas, but rather live together: everyone is like-minded. Everyone wants to live, live, work and build in harmony with nature, and everyone does everything together to maintain this green harmony.
They work together under the flag of their association: Vereniging Aardehuis Oost Nederland. Decisions about the course of the association and the neighbourhood are made together by a sociocratic board. This way everyone has something to say about their neighbourhood.
EARTH HOUSE EAST NETHERLANDS ASSOCIATION
Vereniging Aardhuis Oost Nederland was founded in 2006 and consists of 23 households. This group of people have all kinds of different backgrounds, talents and experience. In daily life they are, for example, financial experts, independent entrepreneurs, IT specialists, nurses and artists.
What connects them is the mission to work towards a society that takes care of nature, the environment and each other. To achieve this, they draw on their own unique skills. They have experience with everything that comes in handy for a green society: such as vegetable gardening, beekeeping, permaculture and knowledge of solar energy, recycling, organic food, water management and self-sufficient living.
All 23 households have built their own earth house together with volunteers, and are doing their best to keep their neighbourhood as green as possible.
The earth village is a mini-society in which harmony between people and nature is central
“Living in an earthen house is a hundred times more comfortable than living in a normal house,” says Annemieke van Dongen, who built her own earthen house six years ago and has been part of the Overijssel eco village ever since. “Because of the natural materials, it is always comfortable and you also feel connected to the outside inside. But you really don’t have to be a hippie to live in an earth house. We also just have Wi-Fi.”
Earthships, or Earth Houses are built from recycled and natural materials. For example, the walls consist of car tyres and clay. This combination of materials ensures that the heat in the house remains inside.
“Earth houses have undergone quite a development since the design phase, because you have to adhere to the Dutch guidelines,” explains Annemieke. “This means, for example, that a wall must not be skewed, so that you cannot actually keep walls made of clay and car tires without concrete support pillars in place. After having built twelve houses in this way, we decided to make the rest of the walls of straw and clay.”
“The next generation sees here every day how things can be done differently. That will lead to very nice things.”
Despite the fact that the earth houses in Olst are slightly different, the eco-homes have many of the same advantages as an original earthship. “As soon as there is even a little bit of sun, the stove can be switched off because of the glass wall, even in winter,” says Annemieke. “Our energy bill is about 2.50 euros per month. In addition, not a single raindrop goes to the sewer in the entire village. In addition, we have a natural purification system that cleans gray water back into the surface water.”
The fact that the earth houses in Olst do not stand alone, but are part of a community, enables the residents to make a bigger difference. For example, the neighbours run a vegetable garden together, they are busy establishing a food forest and clothing and belongings are endlessly shared and passed on. In addition, you can now and then hitch a ride on a neighbour’s sustainable projects, says Annemieke. “For example, someone has built a solar charging point for electric cars. And another neighbour orders packaging-free groceries for the entire village once in a while.”
As a result, the children of Annemieke and the other residents grow up in a ‘new normal’: a mini-society in which harmony between people and nature is central. “When my daughter started high school and took friends home for the first time, they said to her, ‘You didn’t tell her you live here.’ To which she replied, ‘Why, this is a very normal house. ?” The next generation sees here every day how things can be done differently. That will lead to very nice things.”
Because, as Michael Reynolds so aptly put it in his Tedx Talk, “If all soldiers around the world would lay down their weapons and pick up tools to build autonomous, sustainable homes, our problems would be over and real life could begin.”
Annemieke was speaking to Nadine Maarhuis for Maatschapwij.
Much like the pioneering design of Mjøsa Tower, which exemplifies modern sustainable architecture, Earthships represent another facet of this ecological revolution, showcasing how natural and recycled materials can be ingeniously used to create self-sufficient, environmentally-friendly homes.
This article was first published on BrightVibes June 4 of 2022.
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