memeChristchurch has been through a hard time, do doubt. Its been over 2 years since the worst quake, which threw the city into chaos and its residents into turmoil.

Its now March 2013 and a lot of the roads are still terrible, the whole central city is still closed down, there are blocks that used to be hubs that are gravel car parks and thousands of houses are red stickered and stand empty.

Mike Reynolds took an interest in the Christchurch situation and came to visit us in NZ for 6 days in mid March. Mike spoke at 3 public seminars to Christchurch residents, as well as meeting with the Christchurch City Council, doing a talk to architecture students, a retrofit talk at a farm homestead and 2 media interviews. Mike also lead the 3 day practical workshop with 35 participants of an Earthship build on the Hills above Christchurch. Here is what happened.


Work on this Earthship demonstration project kicked off with Mike Reynolds pounding the first tyre, 3 hours after landing in the country. The floorplan is a U, made up of 17 tyres around to create 10sq meters interior space (the limit for under permit size in NZ).

Landowner Robin Woodsfords, donated the field on his beautiful 10 acres organic vineyard on Huntsbury Hill, north facing for the light and sheltered from the southerly – the perfect spot for Christchurch’s first Earthship community project.

We had a strong core crew of five Kiwis preparing and organizing the build, which ran smoothly with Mike at the head and 35 participants from all over bringing their enthusiasm and ideas.

This building is a simple version of a single room, with no systems apart from 1 cistern for water catchment and one solar panel for power.

On the first day, the rebar vault is built on the ground, the 5 courses of tyres are pounded full of earth at the same time. At the end of day 1 both were complete – the rebar vault is lifted ontop of the tire work, placed ready for a bond beam.

The cement bond beam, formed by cans is poured to secure the vault to the tyre work. The vault is then plastered the four times from the outside, and work is done to surrounded the building with a vapor barrier and rigid insulation and is then buried with earth.

Organizing and designing the bottle wall for either side of the door was the next project, which meant cutting glass bottles and taping end to end to make a brick that lets in light. These are placed similar to placing cans in a wall, surrounded by cement. At the same time, carpentry was under way to get the front face ready for the front door and windows.

The roof then got a two-inch layer of insulation and a vapor barrier and its last inch thick coat of plaster. We also built a parapet; cans layered up to create a water catchment around the edge of the roof which will run into the cistern buried in the berm of the building. Inside, the tyre walls were packed out to a nice shape and plastered, as was the wing walls.  A concrete slab gets poured on the interior floor, glass fitted and the door hung.

Earthship buildings have a second greenhouse on the front, which provides solar gain and is a buffer zone, regulating the indoor temperature so the building doesn’t need heating or cooling. Our demonstration room may not get this added feature, depending on regulations.

Done in only 3 days, this room is a wonderful example of water catchment, temperature control, recycled materials and what can be achieved with volunteers in a short time frame for very little money.

A huge thanks to the NZ team (Robin Woodsford, Mike Lilian, Turei Atkins, Lachlan Grey and Rosa Henderson) and to those who participated in the build. Thanks to Brian, our wonderful backhoe driver and hangi master. To the companies that donated materials (Fulton Hogan, Texco, Fenwick steel, Holcim cement and Pumphouse glass). And especially to Michael Reynolds for inspiring and leading our work.