Realizing her dream house, a fairy-mushroom structure, at the age of 9 with the help of her mother, Elora Hardy has always been inclined towards the whimsical and unusual. Being brought up by two creative artists, in Canada and Bali, Elora started her journey in design through an art school in the United States. Not interested in being a gallery artist, she went to New York to work for one of the most influential fashion designers and produced textile prints for the biggest runways in the world. Successful in her career of 5 years in the fashion industry, she quit her glamorous city life to find her passion in Bali in 2010 in the form of IBUKU.
“We get to make beauty and value and a sense of connection out of wild grass that grows in our backyards.”
Inspired by her father, John Hardy, who is the genius behind the acclaimed Green School, she joined and later perpetuated his conviction to provide better lives for future generations by creating a healthy, natural, nourishing living environment. He used bamboo as a construction material for this school as a promise to the children, reaffirming the presence of one sustainable, abundant, decomposable material that they will not run out of. This was a promise of abundance, inspiring innovation. Highly influenced by the construction of this structure, Elora started to seek innovative and creative solutions to intuitive, yet viable structures made from bamboo.
“Bamboo will treat you well if you use it right.”
Sensing wonder, possibility, and a bit of idealism, Elora Hardy founded IBUKU along with some original builders of Green School Bali. With ‘IBU’ meaning mother and ‘KU’ meaning my, clearly represented in the name are the ideals and priorities of the firm, translating to ‘My Mother Earth’. Pioneering a new practice of architectural construction altogether, IBUKU works towards creating structures mostly using bamboo, so much so that in the architecture fraternity, the words ‘bamboo architecture’ has formed stern associations with IBUKU and Ellora Hardy.
Bamboo was the material chosen, to translate Balinese craftsmanship and instincts into a new language of design. Watching a bamboo shoot grow a meter in 3 days, into an elegant, hollow, ‘liftable’ and sustainable timber in 3 years, she knew that she had to encourage and inspire its uses through the architectural domain into the daily lives of people, for a more sustainable future. Gathering bamboo up to 18 m of usable length, providing tensile strength of steel and compressive strength of concrete, Elora made the site context her canvas, experimenting, assembling, dismantling on scaled-down 3D models of the to-be-built structure.
“Bamboo may not be for everyone, but there is enough bamboo for everyone.”
Showing off the possibilities, her philosophy is to inspire, to connect people with this natural material, by making it desirable, while uplifting the human skill and craftsmanship along the way. Taking a stern stand and learning what is needed in the process, the structures demonstrate their pride through quality and a just sense of unruly abundance and experimentation. Going beyond the conventions of sustainability of constraints, reduction, and recycling, towards innovation, imagination, and creation. Creating beautiful structures with bamboo that speaks and expresses its wild, elegant natural form, while adding human value. They chose bamboo and stuck by it throughout their innovation process to fulfill the craving in our culture – a sense of connection with nature. Working on expanding her approach and thought processes, and translating them into use, for other materials, she is currently working on a challenge to capture another abundant, natural material like bamboo, adding her whims and translating that into a form, in ways that look wildly different in different parts of the world.
“No two poles alike, no straight lines, no two-by-fours here. The tried-and-true, well-crafted formulas, and vocabulary of architecture do not apply here. We have had to invent our own rules.”
Fortunately, Bali culture fosters craftsmanship and values the artisans, along with adventurous outliers of locally trained architects, designers, engineers, Elora Hardy, with an aim to inspire, build dramatized, and extraordinary structures. Designing for curving, tapering, and hollow poles, with no concept of modular components for construction, they invent their own guidelines for construction. With experiments conducted, durability and lifecycle checked and rechecked, some techniques worked and while some didn’t, this led them on a path of determined innovation. They watch the sun, avoid the rain, work with gravity, contours of the land, respecting it by keeping it as it is, and work with the skills of the people.
“We ask the bamboo what it’s good at, what it wants to become and what it says is: respect me, design for my strengths, protect me from water and make the most of my curves.”
Scaled-down bamboo models being used as structural blue-prints, Elora has pioneered an unconventional construction method, with craftsmen on-site measuring her models, considering each curve, and selecting the bamboo piece that curves the right way from the pile for that particular segment, to replicate on-site.
“Why are doors so often rectangular? Why not round? How could you make a door better? Well, its hinges battle gravity, and gravity will always win in the end, so, why not have it pivoted on the center where it can stay balanced? And while you’re at it, why not doors shaped like teardrops? ”
Not making it easy on themselves, when it comes to interiors, no detail is left untouched, un-thought of, and un-dreamt of. They sketch, they prepare models, they build and often rebuild. Every structure made in bamboo so far by Elora Hardy is unique- it is custom made, mostly based on whims, navigation, individual site location, and orientation. One can find them drawing furniture on the floor of the space it is intended for, and then constructing it- designing while making, through visual, physical, and perceptual intimacy. Thinking in detail, considering and challenging, even the tiniest details through introspection, she aspires to bring out a newer version, a new approach towards the most mundane. Her recipe for kitchen tops involves slicing up the boulders like a loaf of bread, leaving the crust on, and handcrafting each to fit the other.
“The floor that you can walk on, can it affect the way you walk? Can it change the footprint that you’ll ultimately leave on the world?”
Although not entirely new, their approach has been inspired, not only by the material but its age-long deep involvement in the daily lives of the local communities in tropical regions, from little huts to elaborate bridges to mundane objects. As unprotected bamboo gets weathered and untreated bamboo gets eaten to dust, it is believed to be a poor man’s material and is looked down upon, especially in Asian communities. Aiming to change their misconceptions and preconceived notions, Elora and her team in IBUKU strive towards motivating the use of bamboo as a construction material by turning it into a viable and permanent material using natural salts. Interpreting the tone and the texture of the moment, they work extensively towards creating the right juxtaposition, giving well-deserved importance to tactility in architecture.
“No huffing or puffing will blow these houses down.”
“With innovations come challenges.”
Although the journey of establishing oneself in an unconventional niche of construction cannot always be a stride through a park, they constantly pushed themselves very hard, breaking the notions, perceptions, physical barriers, and constraints of the material. Thinking beyond the mere structures and events, the activity patterns are designed and navigated through, to grow a fantasy land, full of absurdities that somehow make sense in the end.
“Treat it properly, design it carefully and a bamboo structure can last a lifetime.”
Some works of IBUKU
One of the favorite works of IBUKU, as claimed by Elora Hardy herself, is a residential building, designed for the Sharma family in 2012 in Bali, Indonesia. This is the most acclaimed work of Elora Hardy worldwide, so much so that the view of the building has associated itself completely with the image of IBUKU. With six levels, four bedrooms, spacious living space, and 15m long tunnel entrance, it is the tallest bamboo structure in Bali. A circular staircase in the inner central tower, supporting the entire structure, reveals the secret to its majestic height. Each room is based on different themes as per the needs of the client. Designed as a jungle fantasy escape, the entire campus of 2,600 sqm also houses a guest house, a storage cave, a riverside yoga pavilion, an outdoor spa, and a poolside barbecue, amidst beautiful gardens, overlooking a river valley. Boxing off rooms is not her approach, instead, blurring the idea of conventional walls and floors and ceilings, they made woven pods and baskets for toilets and other enclosure requiring spaces. Built almost entirely of bamboo, the intended emphasis on a dramatic entry, light, and texture variations, along with custom-designed furniture, plays well with their goal of peculiarity.
2. Riverbend House
Designed for a short term stay for a family or a group of friends, this two-bedroom structure at Bambu Indah, Bali, was conceptualized as a nest, providing the option for enclosing the interiors completely for artificial air conditioning, at the will of the user. A new technique of crossed-beams grid-shell system was implemented for the roof. The entire structure was designed on instincts and on context, guided by the shape of the adjacent river. Providing a 220-degree view of the lush greens and the river, scattered across the facade are staggered windows of varying heights, width, and placement.
On the river banks of Ayug River in Bali, IBUKU recently erected a Balinese Cooking School for Four Seasons Sayan. Amalgamating sustainable architecture with Balinese culinary wisdom, constructed of bamboo, the structure fits right into the theme of the Balinese tradition of using bamboo in cooking, for utensils, and in mundane objects. Elegant and leaf-like, the roof of the structure provides the right amount of intimacy and enclosure.
4. Ananda House
Built-in 2015, the entire structure is designed as a series of events and activities, starting with sunlight filtering itself in between the spaces of bamboo façade on the east, forming dews on the leaves surrounding the entrance to the structure. As the day descends, the light penetrates farther inside the multi-leveled built structure, redeeming itself from using artificial lights during the day. Ensuring privacy are the two bedrooms with private balconies, facing east towards the valley. Winding down the pathway between two structures is a teardrop-shaped open pavilion to the right, housing an open living room with a kitchen. Blurring the lines of transition between indoors and outdoors is the sweeping deck on the north of the pavilion towards the pool. Some rooms of the structure are fully enclosed in tall made-opaque-by-the-white-curtains glass windows that reflect the green around. The curving-leaf-shaped roofs sweep low around the sides, providing the desired amount of enclosure and privacy.
This 330 sqm sheltered space for hosting multi-purpose events at the Green School, holds a capacity of around 300 people. Impressing its structural boldness through long-span arches and perceived weightlessness, Sangkep proves its worth through segmented bamboo technique, allowing ease in reaching the desired curvature. Although open from 4 sides, the low sweeping roof on the edges provides shelter from sun, rain, and winds. A tear at the highest point of the roof allows abundant zenithal light.
Using only 7 of 1450 species that grow across the world, Elora beautifully rendered this material into more than a 100 ‘almost-entirely-handmade’ structures. Designing unusual, bespoke homes, made entirely from bamboo, she creates a journey of activities and events through her buildings. Bamboo buildings may have existed in the past, but the way they are working with it is a whole new world. With a multidisciplinary team of artisans, architects, and designers, Elora Hardy and her team are constantly working towards creating a new way of building. With many unique structures and furniture in their bag of accomplishments, strictly ensured in them all, are the non-use of non-recyclable materials and chemicals, even in the smallest intricate details, by denying it the same materials used for conventional structures. Abiding by her philosophy of choosing one humble material and making a new world out of it, which in this case is an intricately woven bamboo story, accentuating a connection with nature, she developed a new notion of architectural designs, inspiring many in the process. Homes designed by Elora Hardy seem to celebrate beauty and joy, with dancing sunlight and swooshing breeze, and occasionally, a few bugs!
“With creativity and commitment, you can create beauty and comfort, and safety and even luxury, out of a material that will always grow back.”
All images are sourced from the official website of IBUKU, i.e. www.ibuku.com