Modern Ecovillage Paves the Road Towards a Circular Future
The Aardehuizen is Europe’s first neighborhood of Earthship-type houses, and it could hold the key towards realising a fully circular future. This is the story of a group of environmentally conscious citizens taking matters into their own hands to create a one-of-a-kind project that has inspired people from all over the world to do the same. The project took over 3 years to construct, a period in which each and every one of the inhabitants helped at least one day a week to work on the construction. It was not always easy, but everyone wholeheartedly agrees the result is worth it.
Minimising the inhabitants’ ecological footprint is the central philosophy underpinning the project. This is achieved by using mostly recycled, renewable, and locally sourced construction materials. Solar panels provide 70% of the neighbourhood’s electricity needs, while 100% of the water is sourced locally and recycled using a helophyte filter. In addition, inhabitants aim for a low-footprint lifestyle, for instance by sharing cars and eating organic fruits and vegetables from their communal herb garden.
The project stands out in other ways as well, and they had to fight hard to accomplish it. Case in point: there is no sewage and no gas connection, two things that are mandatory according to Dutch law. After a painstaking process in which they lobbied for regulatory exemptions that took multiple years, they finally found a municipality willing to cooperate on their vision. Their boldness has proved prescient: the Dutch government has only this year decided that all new neighbourhoods should be gas-less, and that all existing gas connections ought to be phased out -- a radical move for a country that has traditionally always relied on gas for all its heating needs.
The self-reliant, sustainable and innovative character of the Aardehuizen project has resulted in a continuously ongoing quest to find more optimal ways to improve the inhabitants quality of life while reducing the impact on the planet. This quest has already led to numerous positive outcomes, such as the sharing of electric cars, the construction of a public park, and the exchange of locally produced energy among neighbours. It is innovations like these that make the Aardehuizen a successful experimental project at the forefront of urban innovation.
Although at first glance, the Aardehuizen model - especially the collective construction aspect - might seem difficult to scale and replicate, the cooperative and sustainable design philosophy has proven itself to resonate with people from all over the globe. As a result, the lessons learned from this construction project are slowly finding their way to newer projects that will steadily improve and iterate the concept, such as the Smarthoods concept: a neighbourhood in which all food, water, and energy flows are circularly connected.
Ultimately, the vision of a collectively constructed, circular, and resilient neighbourhood is one that has the potential to radically transform society from the bottom-up. In doing so, citizens take matter into their own hands in order to create a future they see fit to raise their children in.
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Written by Florijn de Graaf & Simon Goddek
Edited by Rachel Weissman & Alexander Fleiss