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Bamboo Architecture: the Laboratory

Creating sculptural bamboo architecture is a journey of discovery, there is no question about that. It can be deeply nourishing, dynamising the inner being of all involved. It can be thoroughly challenging, testing not only the capabilities of the bamboo but also the minds and bodies of all involved. It can be insightful, offering glimpses into new realities. As all participating in a construction process have different ways of seeing what is being created, the process also builds a team dynamic of collaboration and co-creation. When a space of investigation and creativity is opened and people are participating with their hearts fully involved, something very beautiful happens, not just physically but also in the beings of the people who are participating.

Dynamising the spiralling quality with a ceiling finish
Reciprocal Bamboo Roof

Designing and building Sculptural Bamboo Architecture

Creating sculptural bamboo architecture is a process that requires a fully embodied human presence: the design intention evolves through the act of construction. We call this process the Bamboo Lab because of it´s quality of exploration, innovation, testing and imagining. When designs become sculptural it is only through being inside them that we can feel them and finish the design, meaning that the construction process itself is an essential part of the design process.

Three dimensional documentation enhances the construction of a sculptural building
Construction model for sculptural bamboo studio

This is very different to a traditional process where architecture is designed and translated into drawings, from which a building is then constructed by a different team of people. Sculptural bamboo architecture thrives when the design documentation is three-dimensional and when there is flexibility for the design to evolve as construction proceeds. It is important to note that we see the model as a construction tool rather than a presentation, because the building, once finished is an evolved version of the model that can be inhabited and enjoyed. If we are lucky, the model survives here in the rainforest until the primary structure at scale one-to-one is complete!

How the Bamboo Architecture Lab began

Bamboo rainforest construction workshop
Creating curved bamboo beams with architecture students

The first time we came to this land as a collective was with a group of twenty architecture students from the UK. Running a workshop with a British university was the impulse which brought our passion for architecture to the rainforest and since then has expanded into many things including a Bamboo Lab.

We see each construction as an opportunity to explore the potential of this incredible material. Once a year the lab opens up to invite people who are passionate about living in nature and building with bamboo, to come together and create. In addition to the way that this contributes to the impulse of sculptural bamboo architecture in other parts of the world through the participants' own future projects, the coming together of all sorts of people also deeply enriches the lab.

The process of creating Sculptural Bamboo Architecture

1. Gesture:

A design begins as a gesture, an intention about spatial qualities and an emotive experience that feels inspiring. The gesture also has a lot to do with the qualities of the site. A form begins to emerge from the gesture, and through sketches, physical models and sometimes computer models too, the form becomes more and more palpable as a possibility.

2. Building begins:

Once a primary structure becomes clear, the building process begins. This can sometimes be just a couple of weeks after the design process is initiated, and during the construction process the design continues to evolve. Inhabiting the space defined by curved beams and splaying rafters is completely different from seeing these forms in a drawing or model. Experiencing the space with the embodied senses brings about inspiration for design opportunities that we hadn't seen in a scaled model where the human body is located outside the space.

3. The design evolves:

Building the primary structure of sculptural bamboo architecture together with participants from all sorts of backgrounds
Co-creation with bamboo beams

As the bamboo forms begin to be positioned, supported by scaffolding, we make adjustments, from small tweaks to a curve, to flipping the shape of a beam around. To us the construction process is as much part of the design as the pen, paper and model phase. It's important to mention here that we build from the top down. First are the main roof beams which define a primary geometry. Later, columns can connect an intention of space at ground level with the emerging roof form, allowing the sculptural gesture to feel as though it grows from the ground.

Opening the process up

Making a primary structure in this way can be hugely exciting, and that is why we open up the process of the Lab to like-minded creatives once a year in an experience called a Generation. The word Generation describes the iterative process that the workshop-retreat embraces. We named the first generation 'survival' because it was an arrival to the rainforest without any infrastructure. This element of rainforest living and connecting with a very different sort of lifestyle is also a big part of the experience of a Generation. Now we are preparing for Generation 5 and things have really moved on - there is now a heritage house, renovated with a sculptural bamboo roof, with a natural pool, that holds a central space for the three-week experience.

If you are curious about what we will make during the generation, get involved through the 'generation 5' section of the website. As it is a co-creative process, all hands that are part of the buildings process have an influence on the built form, and the design is enriched by each collaborative, innovative, explorative, inquisitive being. Are you ready?!

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