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This Self-Sufficient Country Home Is "Not Normal" — Yet

Self-sustaining country home designed by architect Germán Spahr
Self-sustaining country home designed by architect Germán Spahr
Graciela Baduel

BUENOS AIRES — An Argentine architect has won his country's 2016 Sustainable Habitat Prize for his very first project, a self-sustaining country home inspired by Michael Reynolds's emblematic "earthships."

The winning project, designed by architect Germán Spahr and built near Bariloche, in western Argentina, maximizes insulation, is self-powered, has a vegetable patch and even treats its own sewage. It also follows the earthship model's sustainability principles, including use of recycled construction material and the ability to store and filter rainwater.

The Sustainable Habitat Prize is awarded annually by the Nacional University of la Plata and the Buenos Aires Province college of architects.

For the load bearing walls in the 130-square-meter, two-story house, Spahr used quake-resistant concrete. Elsewhere he used a lightweight, metallic structure to build a north-facing facade and slanted roof that will hold six solar panels (plus a wind turbine). The building also has a "thermal wall" that uses earth-filled tires as insulation.

Rainwater flows from the roof into five underground tanks for storage. Some of the water is channeled through a filtering system to become potable. The house also treats its own sewage.

There's nothing run-of-the-mill about the award-winning residence, as Spahr readily admits. "It wasn't conceived for a normal client," he tells Clarín. But even people with "regular" homes can do things to be more sustainable — by cutting back on consumption, for example, and recylcing, he suggests. "Not, this is not a normal house, but I'd like to imagine it could be some day," says Spahr.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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