It will not become more sustainable: self-built, self-sufficient houses, made with clay, straw and discarded car tires.

Olst has 23 'earth houses'.

A group of visionary idealists worked for six years on the plans and three years on implementation, aided by professional construction coordinators and hundreds of volunteers.

Estella Franssen was one of the original initiators.

The idea for the earth houses is based on the 'earthships' of the American architect Michael Reynolds.

"In the 1960s he compared houses with a baby in the stomach: depending on external input through all kinds of pipes," says Franssen.

"He wanted to turn his Earthships into self-sufficient homes."

At the time, awareness of the finiteness of fossil fuels was an important argument, now it is mainly sustainability.

The minimization of concrete and cement is also part of this ultra-durable construction form.

Franssen: "These are good and fast building materials, but production obscenely requires a lot of energy."

And finally, an earth house is built by the residents themselves, with materials that are available in their own environment.

"Car tires stacked on top of each other, filled with soil and finished with clay, can retain solar heat for a long time and radiate it into your living room."

Estella Fransen, co-initiator of Olst earth houses

Warm wall

The north walls of most of the earth houses in Olst are made of earth-filled car tires.

"Every year, eight million of these are released in our country," says Franssen.

That sounds almost gratifying, but high-quality recycling of all those car tires is anything but self-evident.

Stacked on top of each other, filled with soil and finished with loam, they can retain solar heat for a long time and radiate it into your living room.

One of the earth houses in Olst.

(Photo: Vereniging Aardehuis)

"We have not been able to build all the houses in the neighborhood in this way," says Franssen.

"It is terribly hard and time consuming work to fill those tires: three wheelbarrows of soil go into one tire."

In fact, just as with traditional construction projects, it turned out that the work took longer than estimated and the costs therefore turned out higher.

But there was no stretch in the budget here.

The last eleven houses were therefore built from straw bales with a timber frame.

The finishing state upon delivery also had to be drastically reduced in mutual consultation.

Car tires in the wall retain solar heat well.

(Photo: Vereniging Aardehuis)

Sociocratic Decision Making

Such decisions could not be made until everyone recognized their usefulness.

The decision-making for the entire neighborhood was made according to the principles of the so-called sociocracy.

In short, it means that the problem at hand is divided into somewhat manageable chunks.

Theme working groups thoroughly immerse themselves in their subject matter, describe variants, alternatives and consequences, and submit a decision proposal.

When someone has serious objections, these are discussed and the plan adjusted if necessary.

"There is room for a difference of opinion, but you keep taking steps," says Franssen.

"That requires great maturity: you have to be able to look beyond your own interests."

The last eleven houses are made of straw bales with wood (Photo: Vereniging Aardehuis)

Give everything plus a little

The construction process itself also demanded a lot.

"All participants helped build the houses in the neighborhood for at least one day a week. From the first to the last. So even if your own house had already been completed and everything still needed to be done on it. In addition, everyone was in one of the working groups. That also took an average of one day a week. Together we ran a construction company and we decided what we really needed to outsource and what we could do ourselves. And all in combination with work and family. Everyone gave everything, plus some extras such as that was necessary. "

“We not only live here wonderfully and self-sufficient, we also look after each other's children and come to each other's help when necessary.

That will not appeal to everyone. ”

Initiator Estelle Fransen

No wonder there was turnover in the group.

Of the original group of twenty initiators, three ultimately live in the neighborhood.

"The commonality is still central, even now", Franssen emphasizes.

There is a community center where residents can eat, party or give workshops together.

"Not only do we live here wonderfully and self-sufficient, we also look after each other's children and come to each other's help if necessary. That will not appeal to everyone."

A look inside an earth house (Photo: Vereniging Aardehuis).

But, Franssen notes, when she tells this story again during a tour to interested parties or scientists, a "sigh of longing" often goes through the group.

"Pretty much," she says.

"Living together is such an essential thing. And that's gone, broken. I see it as a great task to restore something and to inspire others with it."

View more pictures of the earth houses here.