The New Alchemists
Could the past hold the key to sustainable living?
It’s 50 years since the New Alchemy Institute created its ‘living machine’ – a research project of organic farming, renewable energy and sustainable architecture. Did these eco pioneers design a blueprint for our future?
By Steve Rose, September 29, 2019
The Cape Cod Ark: A Study in Self-Sufficiency
Story by Elise Hugus. Photos by Daniel Cojanu.
The snow is shin deep, the mercury well below freezing. In the stunning clarity of winter sunshine, a complex triangle of glass rises from among the dazzling white drifts. A layer of condensation obscures the details of the verdant world inside, but as I draw closer, the green takes shape: a forest of kale, hanging baskets of alyssum, beguiling arch of pole beans. Hyacinths float atop vats of greenish water, as catfish swim in lazy circles.
In contrast with the cold, white world I just stepped out of, this winter landscape feels like paradise. As I quickly shed layers, my muscles release their frigid tension and my face relaxes into a smile. The air is humid, teeming with the sweet smell of soil, of respiring plants, of life. I take a seat at a table next to a sandbox filled with toys. A faint gurgle of water disguises any sound of the outside world.
Cape Cod Ark: Food Without Fuel
EAST FALMOUTH — While icicles grow outside, lemons grow inside the Cape Cod Ark. And if two of every kind of animal showed up, they could be treated to a heckuva salad, at least until the greens ran out.
A holdover from the days of the New Alchemy Institute, this ark is a huge solar greenhouse where Earle Barnhart and Hilde Maingay grow their own food year-round. The building is attached to their solar house, providing the longtime scientists with fresh vegetables and herbs even during the cold season. Winter blues melt away after stepping inside because it feels like a tropical oasis because of the warmth the sun provides.
SELECTED ARTICLES ABOUT NEW ALCHEMY
“The New Alchemy : how to survive in your spare time” James K. Page Jr., and Wilson Clark. Smithsonian Magazine. February 1975.
“The New Alchemy Institute : Search for an Alternative Agriculture” Nicholas Wade. Science Vol. 187, No 4178, February 28, 1975.
“The New Alchemists” John Todd. The Co-Evolution Quarterly, Spring 1976.
“The New Alchemists” Wade Greene. The New York Times Magazine, August 8, 1976.
“The New Alchemists: Creating a Gentle Science to Heal the Earth”. Michael Gery. New Roots for the Northeast, Nov/Dec 1979. Northeast Appropriate Technology Network, Greenfield, MA