Bamboo – a renewable natural resource, is often discussed for its potential to replace steel as a building material. Bamboo is known for its qualities of high compressive strength and low weight along with its characteristics of easy to cut, handle, repair, reposition and maintain with easy tools and techniques.
Canadian designer and founder of the inspiring green architecture firm IBUKU, Elora Hardy works primarily with bamboo and other local materials. Her team consists of skilled artisans, architects, engineers and designers. They always endeavour to find a balance between the vernacular and the latest materials and techniques with the help of modern engineering for the high standards.
Elora gave up her successful fashion career after she was deeply inspired to discover the advanced uses of bamboo while helping her father, John Hardy during the construction of the Green School and surrounding Green Village in Bali. The area is well-designed and blends into the surrounding and cultural context of Bali while following the principles of traditional design and passive climate regulation.
IBUKU has designed and hand-built several homes, hotels and schools in Bali primarily using Bamboo that brings back the childhood fantasies of living in a treehouse. These enigmatic bamboo houses twist and curve at every turn and swirl upwards in the sky to catch the breeze in the harsh tropical climate of Bali. These structures defy the conventional use of bamboo to create space within an authentic relationship of nature.
Bamboo is being used by several cultures in Asia and Africa for about a thousand years to construct houses, bridges, boats, furniture and much more. Ancient Japanese showcased the aesthetics of bamboo with aesthetic presentation and detailing. Bamboo gained popularity as laminated flooring in the 1990s and since then bamboo is being widely used at several stages of construction.
During a Ted Talk titled ‘The Magical Homes made by Bamboo’ Elora Hardy discusses how no two poles of bamboo are alike and each designed structure is unique in its form and construction techniques. She discusses the challenges faced during construction and says “We have had to invent our own rules.”
The splendid bamboo houses are designed to carefully blend with the earth’s contour so minimise the environmental impact. Instead of the conventional method of construction through blueprints, IBUKU team creates 1:50 scale models with hand whittled bamboo sticks. This model is later replicated as 3D models by the engineers to understand the structural integrity and longevity while adhering to the strict building codes.
Defit Wijaya from Ibuku said “Bamboo buildings are like a living organism, every bamboo pole represents the DNA of the building, each unique like real strands of DNA. The strands of the bamboo ‘DNA’ form a network structure, where each pole has its own specific function, be it in the walls, ceilings, stairs or roof. When they come together, to form a body, it waits to be given a soul by those inhabiting the building.”
Bamboo is the fastest growing wild grass that grows on unproductive land, deep ravines and mountainsides. With over 1450 species of bamboo available across the world, some species grow a foot long in one single day. Bamboo shoots take a few months to reach their full height and are as strong as timber within just 3 years. Bamboo has the tensile strength of steel and the compressive strength of concrete”.
Hardy gives an insight on the celebrated six-floor tall bamboo structure built in Bali. The residence has several beautifully designed with a 15m long tunnel, riverside yoga pavilion, storage cave and every room designed with different themes.
All wood structures are feared for having a short life due to the termite and powder post beetle attacks that eat the bamboo to dust. Though the bamboo used by IBUKU is treated with a natural salt solution based on the Boron method in a closed loop system to ensure minimal impact on the ecosystem. Each bamboo trunk is coated with a variety of wood coating to add a layer of protection and shine. These bamboo structures and surfaces require sanding and recoating every few years to increase its life duration when exposed to harsh sunlight or water. She adds that “a well-designed and well-maintained structure built from properly treated bamboo can be expected to last for many decades.”
To complement the interesting exteriors, beautiful and creative furniture is designed uniquely to each project using the local materials. Long poles of bamboo are transformed to create floors, walls, baskets, railings, beds, chairs, ceiling, stairs and tables. In an interview to design she said “Interior accents are created using natural materials found in local environs, including giant stone slabs, beaten copper in bathrooms, paper walls and hammered brass details, all handmade by local artisans using traditional techniques.”
After this is an immersive talk we are enlightened towards the potential of bamboo as both a sustainable resource and a medium to channelise our imagination and creativity. With the increasing demand of creating sustainable architecture there is a need to explore bamboo and other natural resources as a potential design element by all contemporary designers and architects.