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In Uruguay, A Sustainable School Built With Cans And Tires

Borrowing techniques developed by U.S. architect Michael Reynolds, a group of Uruguayan amateurs turned piles of trash into an innovative and one-of-a-kind education center.

A school that not only uses but also generates electricity
A school that not only uses but also generates electricity
Liliana Carbello

BUENOS AIRES — It's a school in more ways than one, and a dream come true for the many people who planned and then — in a span of just six weeks — helped build the highly unusual structure.

Uruguay, arguably Latin America's most socially and environmentally conscious country, recently completed its first sustainable school building. Located in the coastal district of Jaureguiberry, some 50 miles east of Montevideo, the school was built using "Earthship techniques" developed by U.S. architect Michael Reynolds.

The technique centers around the use of recycled materials, which in this case meant approximately 2,000 used tires, 5,000 glass bottles, 2,000 square meters of cardboard, and 8,000 aluminum cans, all of which were collected by neighbors and a group of some 200 volunteers from 30 different countries. Overall, some 60% of the materials used were recycled.

The 270-square meter building is powered by solar panels and wind turbines. Perhaps best of all, the 45 children who attend classes there receive an environmental education, which includes how to use "waste" and make good use of resources.

The project first started taking shape about five years ago, when a group of friends sought to put into practice the ideas that Reynolds teaches through his Earthship Biotecture Academy, in Taos, New Mexico.

"We didn't know anything about building," says Martín Esposito, a member of TAGMA, the NGO that coordinated the project. "It was an idea as big as planning a trip to the moon."

The group decided to contact Reynolds directly. The "Garbage Warrior," as the U.S. architect is sometimes known, took an immediate interest in the project and even made a trip to Uruguay, just as the school was nearing completion, to help out with some last-minute details.

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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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