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Swaying Bamboo

Experiencing an earthquake in a Bamboo house.

It’s 4 in the morning. The night is still dark and the wind softly whispers to the trees. I open my eyes and sit up in my bed. Everything around me seems to be spinning. Am I dizzy? or still dreaming maybe? As the seconds pass, the bamboos accelerate their waltz and looking out to the window, I can clearly see it’s triangular frame sway from side to side. The poles are singing now, grinding as would the mat of a ship sleeping in an agitated port. What is this curious terrestrial swell that rocks my crib? Slowly, the waves asleep, and so do I…

At the morning table, as I share my nocturnal experience, I am told that Lombok underwent an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude. The date is August 5th. The news report hundreds of demolished dwellings, taking a multitude of lives. The image of concrete walls cracking, failing and collapsing in horrific din contrast with my souvenir of bamboo poles under enchanting, subtil and momentary vertigo. In silence, I blame the myth of the 3 little pigs, which preached heavy materials to the World, while condemning grass huts… Could this change our minds?

Bamboo has both lightweight and elastic properties, making it an ideal material to resist earthquakes stresses. In 2012, a 7.6 magnitude seisme hit Costa Rica, and while nearly 200 concrete houses were damaged, at least 30 bamboo constructions survived effortlessly in the epicenter. Three years later a shock-wave of 8.1 magnitude set back Nepal of 800,000 buildings and 800 lives. The International Network of Bamboo And Rattan (INBAR) has since emitted an initiative to help the country recover from the crisis: in partnership with parties from the private sector, they are developing a number of modern bamboo building systems that meet international ISO standards and have excellent anti-seismic properties. “These systems and related technologies are now mature and offer an affordable, durable, highly renewable, and rapidly deployable source of building materials for affected communities”, says Dr. Hans Friederich, INBAR’s Director General.

Lombok’s traditional Sasak homes are composed of thatched bamboo walls, dirt floors, and woven reeds roofs. When feeling the first tremors, the inhabitants of these vernacular houses ran out, as everyone else. Not a single traditional dwelling was affected that day, even as the concrete houses around them crumbled. In a country where masonry architecture has become a synonym of progress more often than not, these structures are bringing an important new look onto ancient indigenous wisdom.

 

Credits: Jules de Laage, Program Manager at Bamboo U.