Beer Can Houses, Circa 1970s

Beer Can Houses, Circa 1970s

Sarah Coffey
May 25, 2010

After catching Regina's post on beer bottle reuse, we stumbled across this earlier incarnation of beer can architecture in Taos, New Mexico. Designer Michael Reynolds started creating houses out of empties in the 1970s. Nearly forty years later, can you guess where he is?

Still living in the desert, still making recycled housing, which he's redubbed earthships. Turns out beer can architecture can sustain an entire career.

Flashback to 1974, 3 years after Reynolds had published his thesis in Architectural Record and had begun experimenting with beer can buildings in the desert. At the same time, the EPA had recently launched a program they called DOCUMERICA, in which they hired freelance photographers to capture environmental issues across the United States. Photographer David Hiser worked mainly in the Southwest, where he met up with Reynolds and photographed the houses under construction and occupied by their first residents.

It's pretty remarkable to look back to the 1970s and see Reynolds working out protoypical versions of green design that have become sustainable standards today, like green roofs and recycled insulation.

In many ways, these experimental houses were ahead of their time. Over the course of his career, Reynolds was considered a visionary, was hit with lawsuits, was stripped of his credentials, and re-emerged as a pioneer of green architecture. In 2007, a documentary titled Garbage Warrior profiled Reynolds as an early advocate of green design.

David Hiser's DOCUMERICA Photographs from the U.S. National Archives
Earthship Biotecture
Garbage Warrior, a film by Oliver Hodge

Photos: David Hiser for the DOCUMERICA Project (1971-1977) for the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. National Archives via Flickr Commons

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