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With Love, from Bali – Hand Made Houses by Bamboo Builder Ibuku

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on September 09, 2015 at 03:37 PM

They take ‘sustainability’ to a whole new level, and exploit the concept in its entirety. Yet, their work is not so much about sustainable architecture as it is about the love of bamboo as building material, and of the skills of Balinese craftsmen at this dying art. We are talking here about bamboo building Balinese firm Ibuku, led by Elora Hardy, originally Balinese fashion designer from New York. On a holiday at home in Bali, Hardy’s observation of her parents finishing the Green School they built using the bamboo building techniques of local craftsmen ‘blew her mind’ enough to quit the fashion scene at NYC and come home to get involved in the school building project. She went on to found Ibuku, a firm which uses locally available bamboo, also a widely acknowledged speedily renewable material, and the skills of local bamboo craftsmen to build sustainable and fascinating residential, recreational and educational buildings. We take a look at Sharma Springs, a holiday home set in verdant greens and built of bamboo construction, which is in Ibuku’s own words the ‘crowning glory’ of all the residences they have created.

© Courtesy of Internet Resources

Sharma Springs

It’s quaint, pretty and unobtrusive in the forest ambience on account of its apparent transience. But standing solid as the tallest bamboo structure in Bali, Sharma Springs with 4 bedrooms and 6 floors was designed as a forest fantasy get-away home for the Sharma family. Its 750 sq mt built area sits on a site of around 2500 sq m overlooking the Ayung river valley in Sibang Gede, Bali. 

One enters dramatically through a tunnel bridge at the 4th floor living, dining and kitchen spaces, which open out vistas of the valley all around through their almost wall-less periphery. The lower levels house four bedrooms, a library and a kids’ play room, all air-conditioned by using glass enclosures. The 6th level has look out and sunset view points. Almost all the furniture too is made from bamboo, beautifully custom designed by Ibuku. Master metal smiths custom-built the shower stalls, stone carvers from Java carved boulders into counter slabs. 

The site also has other ancillary structures like an entry building, a guest house, a storage cave, a riverside yoga pavilion, an outdoor spa and a poolside barbecue  The entire site of the house has been landscaped in local flora, using permaculture techniques, also by Ibuku.

Ibuku follows a design process wherein a scaled model of the structure is developed and sent to site, where the engineers and craftsmen work out the structural feasibility and erect it. Sharma Springs, inspired from the lotus flower in its design, is built around a central tower, around which the stairs wind to go up and down the structure. The rest of the structure branches out from this central core like multi-layered petals, also seen in typical Balinese bamboo houses. 

Ibuku – love, art and sustainability

Ibuku professes that flexible, rounded, hollow and light weight bamboo, which is available in upto 18 m lengths and tapers at the end makes it an unrivalled timber in terms of strength and sustainability. It has the compressive strength of concrete and tensile strength of steel, can be bent easily into any form and can be used for building without the help of heavy machinery. Its flexibility also makes these structures the most earthquake resistant in comparison to others. Out of 100 artists and engineers working on a project, 20 are always on site. They weave the walls on site and whittle pins to pin splits of bamboo skin to the floor. 

Bamboo, growing on non agricultural land and thriving on rain and spring water in ravines deep inside forests of Bali and Java, which is never more than a day’s drive away from the site is harvested by Ibuku for construction. This bamboo grows and replaces rapidly and is one of seven varieties used by the Ibuku team, out of the1450 bamboo varieties available in the world. Though tried and tested in the warm tropical climes, Elora hardy vouches for its applicability in colder environs too, having already shown in her designs how modern conveniences like air conditioning can be achieved. She has also used active sustainable techniques like photovoltaics and rain water harvesting, in addition to her quintessentially passively sustainable system of bamboo building. This points towards the applicability of this ingeniously sustainable construction technique on a worldwide canvas.

The only major drawback of bamboo construction was supposed to have been its susceptibility to damage by insects, which has been overcome by Ibuku by the treatment method they have perfected. Furthermore, Ibuku’s bamboo construction projects employ hundreds of craftsmen skilled in this dying art form, who would otherwise give up their traditional skills to find employment in the modern service sector. 

From sustaining a community of traditionally skilled craftsmen to employing the most rapidly renewable construction material to erect solid, sustainable alternatives in building construction, and achieving all this with artistic élan is by no means a modest achievement. The hope is that Elora Hardy’s sustainable alternative finds wider replicability  around the world, an agent of reversal of the fate of our consumption plagued planet, a true player in the future of design.

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