Architects bring bamboo revival to Indonesia’s Sulawesi island

  • Local architects in Tanete, Indonesia, teamed up with the local government to build a new public space made primarily from bamboo.
  • Bamboo, long used as a construction material, is abundant in the area.
  • “Bamboo roots save a lot of water,” says Walid, who researches bamboo biomass in Indonesia. “This is what makes bamboo a very good conservation plant.”

TANETE, Indonesia — Aman Wijaya looks up at the roof made from a thousand bamboo stems. “At last this building is standing tall,” he says. “It’s an example to all of us here.”

Residents of Tanete village call the building Bambu Bandara (bandara means airport in Indonesian) because the design mimics Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport, around 20 kilometers (12 miles) west in Makassar, the capital of Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province. The ceiling is configured to look like gently rolling waves.

The idea for a new public space constructed from sustainable materials first took root in a meeting between Aman and his colleagues in Arsitek Komunitas (Community Architects), an NGO, with the local government in 2017. Aman started to sketch plans, consulting with others in Tanete on how best to proceed toward an inclusive design. With the plan settled, the community began hauling in the hundreds of olive-colored bamboo shafts needed to bring the design to life.

The Bambu Bandara building in Tanete, Indonesia. Image by Eko Rusdianto for Mongabay.

Bamboo as a construction material is as old as the karst limestone hills that rise gently into Bantimurung-Bulusaraung National Park east of the village. Bamboo was used for bridge-building in China since at least the 10th century. Its strength, durability and the speed with which it grows (by almost 1 meter, or 3 feet, a year) meant both split and woven bamboo was commonly used for housing and myriad other purposes. Today, bamboo is enjoying a revival of sorts, with some architectural magazines pronouncing it the material of the future.

First, the center of the bamboo is drilled from above to expose and remove the pulpier wood inside. The hardwood outer layer is then treated and lacquered in borax solution, a salt of boric acid commonly used in making detergents, enamel glazes and fire retardants.

“The liquid gets in between the bamboo fibers, then it dries,” Muhammad Cora, the architect of Bambu Bandara, tells Mongabay.

Here in Sulawesi they also soak the wood in the nearby water channel to reduce the glucose content to further inoculate the material against would-be predators.

“It’s been specially treated,” says Yunus from Aristek Komunitas. “Termites see this and they get gun-shy.”

A bamboo forest in Tanete. Image by Eko Rusdianto for Mongabay.

Last August I visited Tanete on a cool day when the gentle breeze rustled leaves and caused bamboo stems to quietly rub up against each other. Here, bamboo grows out the backs of houses for mile after mile alongside rice paddies. It is also a handy guardian of the local water supply, helping filter the water drawn from the nearby wells.

“Bamboo roots save a lot of water,” says Walid, who researches bamboo biomass in South Sulawesi. “This is what makes bamboo a very good conservation plant.”

Walid examined the potential of stored biomass and carbon uptake in 2012. The inventory that year showed a total of 5,620 bamboo stems per hectare accounting for around 72 tons of biomass (at around 12.9 kilograms, or 28 pounds, per stem).

Carbon stocks for Asian tropical forests with a variety of plants range from 40 to 250 tons per hectare. It’s for this reason that Walid is a firm advocate of planting community forests from fast-growing bamboo as a quick and effective carbon storage initiative.

All in all, the structure took four months to build. Previously bamboo was little used beyond construction of fencing and as temporary scaffolding. For many in Tanete, the building could be an important symbol.

“We hope one day it can be a bamboo workshop for South Sulawesi,” Aman says.

In the meantime, the bamboo used here should see out the next three decades, provided the nuts and bolts used in the joinery are checked frequently. Architect Cora says he expects he will need only to dust away a few spider webs and seal off any holes burrowed by ants.

“We have bamboo in abundance,” he says. “And it stops people from having to go to more expensive factories.”

This story was reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and was first published on our Indonesian site on Aug. 24, 2018.

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This story first appeared on Mongabay

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