At united➃design, we often discuss the importance and difficulties of working with local, non-industrial materials. Recently, we participated in a bamboo workshop hosted by Bambusa Collabo near Dumaguete City in the Philippines. Interestingly, we found parallels between the local perceptions of bamboo in the Philippines and earth in Niger. Bamboo is often dubbed as the ‘poor man’s timber,’and like earthen construction, the material is stigmatized and strongly associated with poverty and the rural way of life. The average person in the Philippines aspires to live in a house made of concrete masonry block with a corrugated metal roof, even though these materials are expensive and can be safety hazards during natural disasters. Corrugated metal roofing is notorious for killing people during typhoons and concrete masonry block walls, frequently built without reinforcement, collapse during earthquakes.
Bamboo, on the other hand, is flexible and can be built to withstand typhoon force winds and seismic events. It is also an easy material to replace; no need to wait for supplies to be shipped in from some other location. Bamboo structures are commonly covered with thick thatch and we have been very surprised to discover how much cooler it is under these roofs, especially when compared to a hot sheet of corrugated metal.
We have also seen the downsides of building with non-industrial materials. Earth construction is susceptible to water and it must be treated with care. Bamboo also has its weaknesses. If it is not treated properly after it is harvested it will only last for a few years. The joints also require special attention and usually need to be reinforced. Contemporary methods have been developed to help mitigate these issues. Bamboo can be treated with boric acid or other chemicals to protect it from infestation and the joints can be easily reinforced with solid bamboo. Instead of using natural fibers (rattan) to lash the connections, nylon cable and tire lining are becoming the preferred materials. Long story short, there are simple, inexpensive methods that can improve the durability of bamboo construction.
Dissemination of best practices is the key, and Bambusa Collabo is dedicated to training the local community in contemporary bamboo construction methods. They will train anyone who wants to learn, and also offer land to those willing to build their own housing (which also serves as an initial training project).
Local architects, such as Rene Armogenia, are also seeing the benefits of bamboo as a building material. Armogenia’s work is beautiful, and elevates the material to something that is dignified, airy, and well…architectural. Nevertheless, he is cognizant of the fine line between ‘poor man’s timber’ and the luxury bamboo villas we’ve seen popping up in magazines over the last few years; he is dedicated to developing durable, inexpensive structures that anyone can afford.
From what we have seen so far, there are many dedicated people who are excited about building with bamboo in the Philippines. We are pleased to know that we are not alone in our quest to use materials that are ‘of the place,' and that others (half way around the world) think the same way we do.