INBAR has been speaking to inspiring figures making a difference in the bamboo industry. To read more fromthese bamboo heroes in advocacy, bamboo bikes, and diplomacy, click through the links. This article is about Earl Forlales, the materials engineer whose affordable, innovative, award-winning bamboo house design has made headlines around the world.
INBAR spoke to Earl Forlales, materials engineer (and 23-year-old recent graduate) from the Philippines, on the evening after returning from the glitzy award ceremony in Hong Kong, followed by a busy day pitching to investors.
“I’m very excited! It’s a wonderful opportunity to turn this concept into an actual solution.”
First prize in the Cities for our Future Challenge co-ordinated by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyers (RICS), meant a £50,000 grant towards making Earl’s idea reality. But more than that, the interest that the award has created has been intense – international news outlets have picked up the story, and Earl has been getting offers and requests to talk from all around the world. This means that he won’t be going alone:
“It’s hard to keep a project running if people don’t see it as something worthwhile.”
His idea? To build truly affordable, livable, sustainable houses from bamboo. Of course, in the Philippines, building houses from bamboo is nothing revolutionary – even Earl’s grandparents lived in a bamboo shack outside Manila when he was growing up.
“Filipinos know bamboo. We’ve grown up with it, building with raw bamboo. But engineered bamboo? That’s a different thing altogether.”
Engineered bamboo, which has been gaining traction in recent years in developed countries as a beautiful, durable construction material, for the most part remains the enclave of high-end projects. Of course, at INBAR we are at the centre of the buzz surrounding this material, and it’s easy to forget that there might be others in the world who haven’t caught on yet. According to Earl, the time is ripe for engineered bamboo to go global:
“People have really latched on to my idea, which is really exciting – but it’s not surprising. There have been some really robust pieces of research on the strength, durability and effectiveness of laminated bamboo beams – all it took was for someone to really apply that research to an existing problem in society, and the idea was sure to catch on. ”
The unique aspects of the house designed by Mr Forlales, known as CUBO, is it’s lightning-quick construction time of just FOUR HOURS, after the parts have been manufactured offsite over around seven days. The modular nature of the design means that it is adaptable without being overly complicated, and off-site construction keeps the cost down. The estimated price for one unit could be as low as £60 per square metre, meaning the design could be feasible to support their build in some of Manila’s poorest areas.
Although Mr. Forlales’ original plan was to source engineered bamboo from the Philippines, the demand has been so intense that he is now looking to source at least some of the raw materials from nearby China, which has a well-developed industry producing engineered or laminated bamboo beams, including in INBAR’s strategic partner towns, Yibin, Meishan and Yong’an, or even in Anji county.
Mr. Forlales has had his eye on engineered bamboo for a while – with friends from university, he has been working on plans to use the material for a new project since before he graduated. He credits the exciting news coming out of the bamboo world, including from INBAR, with giving him the idea to use this innovative new material to solve social problems in his native country.
But “going from zero to a completed project”, as he puts it, will be challenging. His first step now is to source raw materials, seek investors, and try to capitalize on the international attention that winning the prize has brought him. He is also looking for business partners among his friends and acquaintances who have the requisite skills to bring his idea to life, ranging from an architect to advisors in business and operations.
Exciting although this moment is for him, the hard work is only just beginning.
INBAR congratulates Earl Forlales on his incredible achievement which has bought the power of bamboo to the forefront, and wishes him the best of luck as CUBO comes to life!