Bamboo: Tradition of the Future exposes bamboo as an underrated hero of construction. In place of a dreamy documentary of the material, its objective centres on attaining an accessible production without compromising knowledge and research, revealing its powers and weaknesses.
The documentary positions bamboo under the map as fundamental material, not only for architects and designers but for all those with an available resource. It starts with the tradition and nature of bamboo, finishing with its re-introduction into the contemporary world.
The director, Dr Johan Granberg, is a Swedish architect who has worked worldwide and has used this as an advantage to spread knowledge around the world. With an evident anthropological design approach, as an assistant professor and founder of his own architectural practice, his work is based on the constitution of society as a whole through the emerging relationships from the act of object-making, a culture constantly influenced by materials and technology.
The little participation of bamboo in the building industry reveals a bigger picture of a complacent architectural field. Granberg takes on an explorative journey to promote bamboo as a visionary material unable to transcend when faced with contemporary rigid frameworks. “Bamboo is a malleable and versatile grass with a long history and rich tradition, exceptional structural and sustainable properties, a unique esthetic and an extraordinary growth rate. Bamboo as a material should be a natural part of the architectural discussions on how to fight man-made climate change and global warming. For such a unique material, why don’t we see more use of it in modern architecture and construction?” asks Granberg. (Scale Magazine, 2020)
The industrial revolution and modernity meant a break from the past for an idealized future. While giving rise to mass production processes, complex traditional methods and materials became obsolete behind the scenes. Today, globalization has managed to magnify this setting through widespread cultural structures and market economics.
Granberg brings to light the other side of the one-sided-view where the specificity of bamboo as an organic element confronts the enduring ethos of standardization that favours, above everything else, the implementation of construction codes and the use of prefabricated materials. Hence, the documentary brings to light the importance of reconsidering building materials beyond those that dictate the basis of supply and demand to explore the ones with particular know-how, slow-paced, connected to a time and place, and sustainable on top of everything else⎯materials with a soul that create value.
Architecture begins in the ground as raw matter, transformed into material destined for construction to turn into built space, slowly through time, becomes a ruin, either in the form of debris or as organic waste returning to the ground. Over time, architecture has become even more volatile due to changes in style, programmatic and technological needs without considering the effects for the future.
Indeed, it implies a cycle within the environment, directly responsible for the impact on climate change, whether positive or negative.
Architecture has a significant environmental role to play. In that case, we know it as an art, but do we know it as a science? While it brings abstraction of the world into reality, only through physicality it is able to fulfil its function. The architect, when knowing the materials, interacting with the materials, experimenting with the materials, can reveal their potentials and expand the spectrum of forms of representation. In science, architecture finds meaning, not through the product but its making.
Today, the idea of architecture develops along with the universal. The reflection of culture becomes a reflection of a vast collective influenced by those in power. Much the same as languages, only a few of them claim around half of the world’s population, while the others usually reach a point of crisis after being displaced by socially, politically and economically dominant ones. Disappearing languages carry an accumulated body of knowledge, convey unique cultures and operate as conduits of human heritage.
“Are we on a path to becoming a monolingual species?” (Nuwer, 2014) Concerning the multidimensional bamboo: for the industry⎯an impediment, for Granberg⎯a challenge for the contemporary architect.
In the hands of the director, the tradition of the future is no paradox, it means the combination of past and contemporary times. Progress not only implicates hypothetical cities defying gravity but the transformation of traditional methods materials with the help of innovation in order to meet the future, “the raw material bamboo has not changed much, but with different processes, it acts differently.” (Bamboo: Tradition of the Future, 2020)
The documentary’s punch line lies in the evidence of the existing projects attempting to mitigate both of these worlds, revealing the possibilities of combining bamboo’s unique properties with contemporary modern building methods. Here, the architect, along the lines of Louis Kahn, is in constant conversations with the material.
“What do you want bamboo?”
The first little pig was very lazy, so he built his house out of straw. The second little pig worked a little bit harder and built his house out of sticks. The third little pig worked hard all day and built his house with bricks. In the end, the third little pig’s house was the only one able to withstand the big bad wolf’s blow. The story leaves us with the idea that the third pig was smarter and more industrious by building a better house out of bricks.
Granberg is able to reveal the dynamics of architecture through a single material; a field currently determined by innumerable preconceptions, globalization and cultural erosion. Bamboo only finds ground for constant improvement through necessity, being an adaptable and accessible resource that creates an approachable architecture. Simultaneously, a complacent architecture field flourishes in developed countries, focusing on working with brand new materials and the latest technologies, searching for a nostalgic idea of utopia.
For Simón Vélez: “Bamboo is not a material neither for the poor or the rich, it is for human beings.” (Archdaily, 2016)
Architecture is both theoretical and practical, local and global, aesthetic and functional, material and conceptual, traditional and innovative. The documentary takes on a fresh approach, searching for a point of convergence between opposites where progress becomes conflict reimagined.
Scale Magazine, 2020. Bamboo, the Material of the Future?. [online] Scale Magazine. Available at: <https://www.scalemag.online/bamboo-the-material-of-the-future/> [Accessed 25 March 2021].
Nuwer, R., 2014. Languages: Why we must save dying tongues. [online] bbc.com. Available at: <https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20140606-why-we-must-save-dying-languages> [Accessed 25 March 2021].
Archdaily, 2016. Simón Vélez en la Bienal de Venecia 2016. [online] ArchDaily Colombia. Available at: <https://www.archdaily.co/co/789232/simon-velez-en-la-bienal-de-venecia-2016-el-bambu-no-es-un-material-para-pobres-es-para-seres-humanos> [Accessed 25 March 2021].
Bamboo: Tradition of the Future. 2020.
Directed by J. Granberg. Qatar: VCU Qatar.