The INBAR Garden at the 2019 Horticulture Expo in Yanqing, Beijing has been designed by Colombian-born Italian architect Mauricio Cardenas. An award-winning expert in bamboo construction with a long career in architecture, Mauricio is a member of INBAR’s Construction Task Force and runs a studio in Milan, Italy – Studio Cardenas Conscious Design. We can’t wait to see the final Pavilion when it opens at the end of April – but before it does, we spoke to Mauricio to find out more about his life and work – and of course his passion for bamboo!
Mauricio Cardenas Laverde has been a member of INBAR’s Construction Task Force for several years, and is very familiar with INBAR’s work. So when he was asked to submit a design for the 2019 Horticulture Expo Pavilion it was a chance to interpret the spirit of INBAR’s work into a green natural sustainable space. He arrived at the final design idea by imagining a rich garden with a pavilion beneath covered by green and lush plants. the INBAR Garden Pavilion is thus a new way of interpreting the idea of a building ‘in’ a garden!
“The Pavilion will be full of natural light, and the positioning of skylights, screens and windows is particularly important. The proportions of the building are designed with Chinese traditional culture in mind. The arches stand at different heights, giving a flowing sense of movement and allowing air circulation – they will act as a natural ventilator. Beijing summers can get very hot! The plants on the roof are a natural source of thermal insulation.”
Now an expert in bamboo construction, Mauricio Cardenas Laverde was born in Colombia and first encountered bamboo on his grandfather’s farm growing up. Even as a young boy he loved building houses in the woods around the farm, and it was a particular thrill when as a very young child, his grandfather would let him cut down the woody poles himself with a ‘big knife’ to ‘build’ with. He told us that as a young student in Colombia and then architect in Paris and Milan, he never consciously thought of those games, but instead pursued contemporary architecture – eschewing traditional materials in favour of clean lines and towering, hi-tech structures of glass, steel and concrete. Looking back now, he admits that throughout his early career the thought of working with bamboo was “never far from [his] mind” – and that those early games must have been where it all started.
As a young architect, Mr. Cardenas Laverde worked for five years in Paris for Renzo Piano Building Workshop, under the leadership of Renzo Piano and his partners, the celebrated Italian architect whose designs feature in such iconic metropolitan buildings as The Shard in London and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Cardenas Laverde’s work for Piano was typical of early appointments in his career – focussing on urban design, cutting edge innovations, sustainability and contemporary styles.
As for bamboo, the relationship between architect and material began to develop when Cardenas Laverde started his own studio in 2004. Having his own studio gave him the freedom to chase his longtime dream of combining natural bamboo with the hi-tech, contemporary materials of his training – glass, steel, and concrete. In the years that followed, the studio has indeed become a true leader in the field, with new techniques patented and many innovative construction techniques developed. In 2011, one of the team’s innovation, Bootech dry-mounted bamboo construction system, was awarded with the prize “Italia degli Innovatori” (Italy of Innovators).
One of the first projects that Cardenas Laverde implemented was a Pavilion at the Milan Design Fair in 2006. Bamboo culms joined at right angles without cement or bolts combined with contemporary materials to invoke a modern version of a summer house or resting place. For this early project, Cardenas recalls fondly that he built much of it himself with a group of his students, and that the bamboo in question was shipped to him from Colombia as a gift by an old friend. This project pushed the boundaries of bamboo engineering and the structure was calculated in collaboration with Arup, a large engineering multinational. Using the lab facilities at Politecnico di Milano, Cardenas Laverde, with the support of the engineering school, has carried out several tests on natural bamboo culms to learn more about their properties.
The INBAR Pavilion isn’t the first time that Cardenas Laverde has worked in China – his signature work with bamboo culms was put to good use in this energy-efficient bamboo house in Zhejiang, China.
In all this work, as well as the other projects that the studio works on, Cardenas Laverde is careful to say that using natural bamboo is not always the answer. The specific properties of bamboo culms – their lengthways strength, their flexibility – make it an ideal material for some designs but not others. Nor is it an exotic, specialist material only for use in luxury hotels in the forest or eco-dwellings in rural areas. What Cardenas Laverde dreams of is a world in which every architect can draw inspiration from the full spectrum of natural materials to build more sustainable, less carbon-intensive cities for everyone.
“The world is changing, and regulations are changing with it. There needs to be less energy, less water and fuel, and more natural building materials,” he says. “We have to change the way we think about construction. Whatever the limitations of alternative building materials such as bamboo are, they can’t be worse than the dangers posed by continuing with the status quo of environmentally damaging construction.”
For example, bamboo dwellings don’t last as long as their steel counterparts. But according to Cardenas Laverde, we have to see this shorter lifespan as an opportunity.
“Concrete buildings can last for hundreds of years, but should they? We see those older concrete buildings in cities, and they are often abandoned, derelict or demolished after a few short decades. If we used natural building materials in cities and changed our mindset, then it would be easy to rebuild every few decades without the huge cost of today.”
As for bamboo’s fire resistance, another key objection that is often raised to using bamboo or timber as building materials in cities, Cardenas Laverde is optimistic:
“We have to learn how to manage this risk with new building techniques. That’s why we test the material, learn about it, and try to understand it. That’s why I work with universities and engineers on fireproofing. ”
The extensive testing that has gone into the materials for the INBAR Pavilion was carried out at Chongqing University, in China. The thick bamboo poles are curved into a gentle arch which forms the roof of the building, the proportions of which was meticulously engineered ahead of time. Another challenging aspect is the green living roof, which adds extra weight. It was important to Cardenas Laverde that his designs adhere to all building regulations and codes, to show that bamboo can be used as part of urban architecture.
Alongside the INBAR Pavilion, Cardenas Laverde is working on several different projects, all the while working hard to promote the use of bamboo in construction across the world and particularly in Europe, where the regulatory environment is still not favourable to bamboo. He is confident that this will change as sustainable construction materials become a necessity, but for now, he will continue developing new techniques, pushing boundaries, and making the “scientific case” for adding bamboo to the traditional construction material portfolio.
“Using carbon intensive materials in construction is easy – but the challenge of working with natural materials instead is worth it!”
Mauricio Cardenas Laverde has also written a book about using bamboo in construction, the first ever to be published in italian，and teaches courses on sustainable architecture at the Politecnico de Milano and as a visiting professor at Tongji University in Shanghai.
To find out more about our Construction Task Force, click here.