International Bamboo and Rattan Organization

International Bamboo and Rattan Organization

Building with Bamboo: Lessons in Construction from BambooU


Building with Bamboo: Lessons in Construction from BambooU

Designers’ Impression of INBAR’s Bamboo Pavilion at the 2019 Horticulture Expo, open in April 2019.

In April 2019, INBAR will host a Pavilion and Garden at the 2019 Horticulture Expo in Beijing. Designed by Italian architect Mauricio Cardenas Laverde and built by a talented team headed by John Shao at Tsinghua University, the Pavilion and associated Bamboo Garden uses naturally curving bamboo culms from China to make a beautiful wave-like structure.

Our structures inevitably draw from the designs of the Hardy family on the island of Bali, Indonesia. With this exciting development in mind, INBAR speaks to Orin Hardy, founder of BambooU, to find out more about how to build with natural bamboo culms.

Orin Hardy @Tommaso Riva

Nowadays, it is often engineered or laminated bamboo structures that make headlines, considered a fire-safe, practical, eco-friendly alternative to timber beams or other more carbon-intensive building materials. But in the world of construction using natural bamboo culms, chief among famous names is that of the Hardy family, who for decades have created magical structures made of bamboo on the Indonesian Bali that have almost come to define Bali architecture in the public consciousness.

John Hardy, Orin’s father, and INBAR Director General Dr. Hans Friderich at BARC2018

John Hardy, father of Orin and Elora and Canadian by birth, first settled on Bali in 1975, and in 2008 opened the now world-famous Green School and gained notoriety as a passionate supporter of building with natural bamboo. 

INBAR Director General Dr. Hans Friederich poses with John Hardy’s gift to him, the giant bamboo culm, and Felix Böck.

Hardy was even a keynote speaker at BARC2018, where he presented INBAR Director General Dr. Hans Friederich with a huge bamboo culm, which even now stands proudly in his office, and provides an intriguing photo prop for visitors to INBAR HQ, such as Felix Böck, bamboo chopstick engineer from Canada.

Growing up in such an environment, it’s easy to imagine how a young Orin and his sister Elora would become enchanted by the incredible structures that can be made. He grew up around amazing bamboo structures, dense bamboo forests and passionate, talented craftsmen who know this amazing plant inside and out.  After growing up and spending time studying abroad, he returned to the island of his birth, and is now the mind behind BambooU, an innovative new program to teach curious minds about the power of bamboo for construction.

BambooU, Orin’s innovative study programme for anyone who wants to learn how to build with bamboo, is borne out of popular demand considering the intense interest in both the tangible and intangible legacy of the Bali bamboo structures.  As Orin Hardy explained to us via Skype from his bamboo office on the island of Bali, recruits ‘study’ with the program for between 11 days and several months, where they take part in two stages of learning:

“The first part is knowledge based and consists of just what you’d expect – lectures, theory, technique, and talks to get our participants acquainted with our narrative. The second part is all about design and collaboration with our local craftsmen to really appreciate how much work is involved and how hard it is to mechanise this sort of construction. In order to really succeed working with bamboo, you have to understand the material on an aesthetic and cultural level – you simply can’t be an intellectual about it.”

At the core of the program is this sustained link with local craftsmen, some of who have been working in the team for more than a decade:

“What we do at its heart is to merge technology and innovation with local tradition, so we do owe a huge debt to that tradition. So with BambooU, it’s all about facilitating and sharing a deep appreciation of local embodied skill and culture, and bringing value to their incredible knowledge base. I hope that what we have achieved here has built local capacity and offered a wealth of new opportunities to these craftsmen. “

BambooU recruits learn from local and international experts. Photo @Tommaso Riva

As Orin explained to INBAR, building with natural bamboo is a completely new process for many of the recruits, even though some of them do have extensive design and architecture experience with other materials. One of the first steps is engendering a shift in philosophy, towards a more flexible approach to design:

“It’s not like concrete – if you build a bamboo structure and make a mistake, you can just change it! It’s a very different material and approach. Bamboo will bend, it is flexible – so there is leeway to change your mind or make mistakes.”

BambooU Photos @Tommaso Riva

With this in mind, the recruits at first eschew high-precision help from a computer program and build 1:20 scale models of their designs from smaller branches. Only when they are happy with the small-scale design do they ‘reverse-designing’ the shapes onto AutoCAD, a design software application. This fusion process is fun, freewheeling, and creative, leading to “wild, otherworldly, spiraling structures like jewelry – we take that aesthetic of beauty and make something big and beautiful” according to Hardy.

The 3D scale models which are a key part of the design process for students at BambooU. Photos all @Tommaso Riva

Education and understanding is the key to seeing the large scale adoption of bamboo as a construction material, especially in the policy sphere. Although many of BambooU’s ‘graduates’ have gone on to design their own structures out of bamboo, they are often “stifled by regulatory industries that don’t understand it” and unable to fully exploit their own local bamboo resources, he says.

“Natural bamboo comes in so many forms, with so many species. How much load can they take? How much variation is there between different species and between different culms of the same species? Building code regulations are often very strict – we don’t believe that we need to make all our doors square, just because the building code says so.”

BambooU students work on their final structures Photo @Tammaso Riva

Of course, there are challenges when working with bamboo just like any other material, chief among these being the fire risk, both real and perceived, especially in drier climates, but bamboo is perfect for a humid, tropical climate like that of Indonesia.

“BambooU has taught hundreds of people the value of this incredible material. We are a group of creative, adventurous, optimistic adventurers hungry to unleash our designs on the rest of the world, inform design and bring beauty into everyday life, wanting to. We are just waiting for the right environment. So let’s do it!”

BambooU on the island of Bali inspires passion in working with bamboo. Photo @Tommaso Riva

To sign up for a course at BambooU, click here. Or check out BambooU’s social media pages here and here.

To find out more about INBAR and construction using natural bamboo culms, click here.