REVOLUTIONISING THE WAY WE BUILD WITH IBUKU
Elora Hardy’s passion to design sustainably and create innovative places inspired by nature was the reason she found IBUKU. Today, the bamboo houses they architect spread much further from the jungles of Bali. In our exclusive interview with Elora and her team we explore why working with nature and using local materials could be the future of architecture
Words: Emily Georgieva
21 December 2019
Deep into the jungles of Bali bamboo constructions stand strong and mesmerising. They awe with their graceful and unique appearance. It feels natural for the houses to exist in the heart of wild Indonesia, as they are made entirely of materials that originate from nature, looking like the houses grow from the jungle itself. The innovative design company that creates the bamboo houses is IBUKU – a name you should remember.
IBUKU is nearly 10 years old now. Talented designer Elora Hardy, daughter of John Hardy and Penny Berton, is the founder and creative director of IBUKU. She is a TED Talk speaker and her business is changing the way architectors build in Bali. Interviews about her work have been published by New York Magazine, National Geographic, the Hong Kong Tatler, the New York Times, Architectural Digest and many more. However, at the time she founded IBUKU, Elora wasn’t thinking about any of this. Thoughts of creating structures with bamboo occurred to her when she would get inspired by the work of her father, John Hardy. In 1975 John and Cynthia Hardy co-founded an eco-friendly jewellery brand, but nature seemed to be their muse. Their desire to feature nature in their work became part of the reason they decided to create Green School. The non-profit school turned into the home of the largest bamboo building in the world. John and Cynthia expanded their idea even further by building Green Village in Bali. They seemed to always strive to build in a manner that works alongside the environment rather than take things away from it. This was Elora’s biggest inspiration.
At the time when Green School was being built nobody had tried to construct with bamboo on such scale and the team had to find a different approach to traditional architectural building techniques. Since IBUKU was first founded, the team has worked on building multiple types of spaces such as schools, gardens, campuses and even homes, dozens of which are already complete and many more planned to follow. Instead of using blueprints, the team of skilled bamboo craftsmen works with hand-whittled bamboo sticks to create to-scale structural models of the projects they work on. This is a niche way to design as it not only requires attention to details and crafting with minimal environmental impact, but it also requires a team of engineers and architects who bring the projects to live in 3D computer programs - all of this happens before the bamboo starts taking its new shape.
The result is always a different-looking house-of-the-jungle that is built with the same integrity and principles as the very first project IBUKU ever worked on. Some of the names given to the buildings refer to their surroundings. For example, the Cacao House was named after the wild cacao grove that it is situated within. Certain details of the locations are often incorporated in the design of the buildings to create an additional sense of belonging.
All the materials are locally sourced from responsible suppliers to make sure the team works with local communities and build with bamboo that is mature enough. The interior is always stunning. IBUKU’s interior designers combine traditional techniques with modern approach to create floors, staircases, room interiors and furniture that are made from bamboo, but are still functional and look incredible. A lot of the designs follow open-air patterns, which make the buildings look like they merge with the outside world. Even though from the outside it might look like the bamboo constructions are a bit primitive and natural, they are very sophisticated.
‘‘Sustainability is also about people. We collaborate with teams of skilled bamboo craftsmen, many of whom are descended from generations of wood and stone carvers. Their age-old traditions are now evolving in line with new designs that are built almost entirely by hand.’’
Elora Hardy, Designer and Founder of IBUKU for NOMADSofORIGIN Magazine
Elora never follows set norms when it comes to design; instead she sets new never-before-seen trends. This is why IBUKU is such an innovation in architecture. The company creates buildings that don’t look like your typical living space – the walls are minimal, sometimes the doors are round to make a room more spacious and inviting. Each detail is carefully thought through so that the team of craftsmen can play with shapes and use bamboo to its full capacity, regardless of whether they use it for its strength in the construction process or for its sustainability and beauty to create the indoor setting. For each construction the bamboo is treated with borax treatment, where all the sugar is taken out of the bamboo through natural salt solutions. This is done so that the material stops appealing to insects, which would otherwise eat it up. This approach strengthens the longevity of the bamboo and transforms it from a cheap material to a renewable gamechanger. Houses constructed with bamboo could last up to 100 years and people are starting to pay attention to the uniqueness it offers.
The brand quickly expanded and IBUKU had already out their mark overseas on international territory. The company has designed for Thailand, Hong Kong, São Tomé and Príncipe and Maldives, but for Elora it's important to always come back home. IBUKU originates from Indonesia and people of Bali are proud to be part of this architectural innovator. For Elora and her team it is important to gain inspiration from the environment and create spaces that, in one way or another, imitate it – its strength, beauty and astonishing power to always continue to amaze.
‘‘We design light on the land and use hand craftsmanship, with handheld power tools, to build. No bulldozers, no cranes, no excavators. Drawing attention to the possibilities for architecture that does good, not harm, is dear to our hearts.’’
Elora Hardy, Designer and Founder of IBUKU for NOMADSofORIGIN Magazine
IBUKU’s team works with pioneers in their fields. They also make Bamboo U available through monthly workshops, so that people who wish to learn the art of bamboo architecture have the chance to do so. Their goal is to pass on the spark for building spaces that are comfortable but sustainable at the same time by taking up an architecture approach, which has not been used before. A lot of hard work, dedication and perseverance goes into the design and construction process before the buildings are curved into their final forms of effortless-like sophistication. Sometimes the best ideas are the ones not influenced by what is considered possible and ‘the right way to do things’, but rather create new patterns. This is exactly what makes IBUKU so important.
Bali was once just a forest and now it is known for its stunning rice fields, trendy little environmentally inspired guesthouses and entire communities build around its rivers and fields. Elora and her team have contributed to this movement. They are bright, forward-thinking leaders in the architectural world because they found a way to create with the help of environment rather than focusing on structuring upon foundations that have already been explored. In Balenese the world IBUKU easily translates to ‘Mother’ and ‘mine’, which is done purposefully to illustrate the bond that IBUKU has with Mother Nature. Elora wants to inspire people all over the world to look at things differently and try to use the resources they have around them at the areas where they live to create new spaces. There are already over 60 bamboo constructions in Bali alone, which goes to prove that one idea can create a movement that can inspire thousands of people.
We talked to the team of IBUKU about their building process, combining sustainability with aesthetics and the future of architecture.
NOMADSofORIGIN: You have previously described bamboo buildings as a “living organism” and illustrated the bamboo poles to appear as “the ‘DNA’ of the building, each unique like real strands of DNA”. Can you tell us what fascinated you about bamboo and what obstacles have you faced since you started designing buildings with it?
IBUKU: I feel excited about the possibilities of building with bamboo. It is plentiful, it grows quickly and easily, and is uniquely versatile. Our conscience is clear, and the world is cleaner and more beautiful for it. With very little attention, a bamboo shoot can become a structural column within three years, compared to 10-20 years for softwoods. Some species have been measured shooting skyward at 2 inches an hour or up to one and a half meters a day. Though bamboo has traditionally been used throughout Asia, new treatment methods have given it a new reliability for long life. IBUKU’s bamboo is treated ecologically with a salt solution, then lab-tested to confirm its durability and integrity, making it as hard-wearing as timber.
Like any natural fiber, bamboo must be protected from the sun and rain. The dramatic overhanging roof and tilting structural columns are designed to protect the villas for the long-term. To prevent moisture, our structural beams are secured by steel and concrete to large river rock stones. These are in turn secured within the earth’s foundation by steel rods reaching down several meters, as determined by our team of structural engineers.
NOMADSofORIGIN: Throughout the years the team of IBUKU have built homes, schools, hotels and guesthouses. You work with sustainable materials whilst managing to craft postcard-like spaces that are all about luxury and functionality. What is the secret of maintaining a balance between sustainability and aesthetics?
IBUKU: The challenge has been turning to the concept of dynamic architectural bamboo structures into comfortable, cozy homes. It's one thing to create a sculptural shell, it's another thing to live in it. We want the best of both worlds, to be uplifted and swept away by the grandeur of the architecture, to feel the breeze and light play through the space, and also be sheltered from the bugs and to be able to batten down the hatches and turn on the Air Conditioning. Bali inspires balance, and what we do to achieve it is to think as creatively as possible. We have built big woven baskets as cozy TV rooms -- and sometimes even as bedrooms-- with beautiful glass moon doors so that you could look out at the view. We lined them with handmade banana fiber paper to keep the cool air in. Even the most high-end fridge still looks out of place in a bamboo house, and even the most beautiful kitchen needs practical appliances, so we grapple with how to integrate them. People want their cappuccino maker and tucking them away inside a beautiful pod gives them the best of both worlds.
NOMADSofORIGIN: The company puts a major focus on sustainability. Why is it so important for you to use nature’s resources respectfully and to create something in an environmentally ethical way?
IBUKU: Bamboo as a timber has incredible strength. An engineer that I know compares it to carbon fibre because of the way that the long fibre result in strength as well as flexibility and that’s really important. The perception of bamboo in Asia over the past few hundred years up until today has been quite low. It’s considered a very humble and impermanent building material and that’s because it would be eaten by insects if not properly treated. Once you’ve treated it properly it’s protected from the rain and the UV of the sun.
Bamboo is the most sustainable building material we have found. Depending on the approach and priorities of the project such as how it is treated, processed, and designed, it spans from low to high costs. Having the opportunity to bring bamboo into the luxury realm has been an empowering creative challenge for us. Bamboo was not always desirable, and we have been part of changing that conversation. In time, with funding and innovation as well as demand/ efficiency and design development it will become an increasingly affordable option. Creativity and demand for excellence will also increase bamboo's use in high-end projects as a valued artistic element.
Sustainability is also about people. We collaborate with teams of skilled bamboo craftsmen, many of whom are descended from generations of wood and stone carvers. Their age-old traditions are now evolving in line with new designs that are built almost entirely by hand. These traditions are being kept alive and hopefully will be preserved for future generations.
NOMADSofORIGIN: What are the most interesting projects you’ve worked on so far?
IBUKU: They all are, we learn something different and innovate with every project.
NOMADSofORIGIN: Do you think using sustainable materials and designing buildings with an environmentally conscious mindset is the future of architecture?
IBUKU: It has to be. We don't really have a choice. For us, bamboo is our sustainable material, but it's not the only one. Our material is all grown nearby wild in the river valleys and in homestead plantations, and each pole growing to full maturity within 4 years. This is the core of our sustainability. We design light on the land and use hand craftsmanship, with handheld power tools, to build. No bulldozers, no cranes, no excavators. Drawing attention to the possibilities for architecture that does good, not harm, is dear to our hearts. If we can build palaces from a grass that grows in our back yards, what else is possible out there?
NOMADSofORIGIN: Could you sum up in a sentence how IKUBU redefines travel?
IBUKU: Not sure if it redefines travel, but we believe in a hopeful, inspirational world where innovating with natural materials connects people with nature. We see a chance to design spaces that give people the experience of wonder.
NOMADSofORIGIN is an independent annual publication with a focus on sustainable travelling and global cultural values. Each issue features interviews, engaging articles and photo guides, which take our nomadic readers through different destinations and introduce them to local people's perspectives.
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