Building recycler

Green Lifestyle

Giving up the inner-city grind, Duuvy Jester now builds houses out of waste.

Duuvy Jester

Duuvy Jester built the first self-sufficient Earthship house in Australia.

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In the last few months of 2013, charismatic Duuvy Jester led a group of volunteers near Bundaberg in Queensland to create an off-the-grid eco-house made from dirt, old car tyres, glass bottles, aluminium cans and hemp.

The building is Australia’s first ‘Earthship’; a type of self-sustaining house, invented in 1970 by American architect Michael Reynolds. By using simple passive solar design principles, and reclaimed local or natural materials, Earthship homes provide an economically feasible solution to many of the environmental problems caused by modern building and living.

Jester first became obsessed with these unique kinds of dwellings in late 2012. He was inspired enough to give up his thriving business (the Court Jester Café in Brunswick, where strangers were seated around a big, communal table), sell his Melbourne-based home, and fly to the US to train under Reynolds at the Earthship Academy in Taos, New Mexico. Jester admits that his reasons for going were selfish, saying; “I wanted to learn how to build an off-grid house that would reduce my energy bills.” However, Jester hadn’t been in Taos long when he realised the Earthship movement resonated with him on a more profound personal level.

“It was as if I’d found my calling.” Reynolds’ academy introduced Jester to the idea of collective unity, which encourages building design to work in harmony with the natural environment. “The whole experience totally opened my mind to how we should be living as human beings.”

Made from several integrated systems, an Earthship operates autonomously. It regulates temperature through thermal and solar dynamics, gathers renewable energy from the Sun and wind, harvests and reuses rainwater, contains and treats sewage and produces a significant amount of food from internal trees and plants. “These systems work in symbiosis,” Jester explains. “They’re linked. You can’t mention one without the other – that’s what separates Earthships from other natural buildings and eco designs.”

Armed with the understanding he needed to help grow the Earthship movement in Australia, Jester moved to Nimbin, NSW, where he found that the local community openly embraced his ventures. “People knew me as ‘the Earthship guy’. It didn’t take long for word to get around.”

Construction of Australia’s first Earthship house near Bundaberg in Queensland, built by a team of volunteers led by Duuvy Jester. Credit: David Yeske.

Jester’s first build took three months, despite some last-minute design changes and a category three cyclone ripping through the site. Jester recalls that the reality of managing a group of 35 paying volunteers also caused unexpected problems: “The hardest part was dealing with personality conflicts when we should have been focusing on the build.”

Conflicts aside, the volunteers were fundamental to the success of the building, getting involved in all aspects of the project; from pounding dirt into 750 old car tyres to form the external structure, to collecting 10,000 used bottles and cans from local pubs and cafés to create internal walls. Each volunteer paid $300 to participate, which covered the costs of labour, reducing the overall build fee for the owners to $90,000.

In exchange for contributing physically and financially, volunteers left empowered, with the skills and knowledge to one day build an Earthship of their own. And despite being quirky buildings, Jester believes their appeal is universal: “They can look as conservative or as whacko as you want,” he says. “They’re very comfortable; the temperature stays the same all year round and the plant life keeps the air fresh. Plus, you don’t have to hook into public utilities.”

Jester and his collective, Terraeden Biotecture, are confident that Earthships will become a regular sight around Australia. Jester’s goals for the future are clear: “I just want to get more builds off the ground and teach as many as people as possible, so that they can pass their learning on, and so that the understanding of Earthships can spread.”

Since completing the Queensland build, Jester and his team have built an Earthship in Northern NSW and will be building another in Goondiwindi this August. Plans are afoot for the opening of a Terraeden Biotecture school, focusing on entire land solutions and teaching Earthship building methods. 

The almost complete Earthship house, the first of it's kind in Australia. Credit: Campbell Imray