Building a Bamboo Chair

Pam enrolled in Bamboo U’s 11-day course in 2024, deepening her understanding of bamboo from its cultivation to its application. With a keen interest in sustainable materials, she seized the opportunity to enhance her design skills by undertaking the challenge of crafting a bamboo chair, further exploring the material's potential.

Where did the idea for the sustainable bamboo chair come from?

The bamboo chair was inspired by the concept of entanglement, drawing on the works of cultural anthropologist experts like Donna Harraway and Anna Tsing. I wanted to explore the relationship with bamboo as a companion species, expanding the idea of technology beyond "high tech" to include other ways of knowing and being that have been passed down in time through cultural practices and traditions. That's what got me curious, so I decided to explore it through this project. 

I started by asking myself, “What would happen if I asked Ai to design a chair and then work with the local master craftsmen to make it?”

The design process began by asking an AI, Midjourney, to envision a parametric bamboo chair influenced by Alvar Alto and Santiago Calatrava works. It gave me a bunch of concepts, and I picked one that felt simple but still had a unique vibe. The moment I started my carpenting journey, I consulted with the master carpenter, Moko, to assess the feasibility of this design within a four-day limit. I knew it would be a challenging project, so I wanted to make sure it was something I could handle in the time I had. All these discussions and processes led me to have a collaborative effort combining AI, the unique properties of bamboo, and Balinese traditional carpentry.

How did you build this bamboo chair?

Building the chair involved a lot of trust in the process, especially as I worked with bamboo for the first time. I asked a lot of questions and got help from almost all the carpenters on site through various aspects of the process. With the skills I picked up from previous model making and carpentry workshops, I felt confident I could try, or at least learn as much as possible within the 4-day timeframe to build the chair.

The process began with an hour of planning using model-making tools and sketches, focusing on the placement of the seat and arms by observing Moko's posture to find the ergonomics that might be comfortable. Next, I traced the legs' curves on plywood to serve as a bending template for the main structure that would connect the chair to the ground and the backrest. The design process was iterative and recursive. The design part was like a loop, with each step influencing the next.

To create the bending elements, we first rolled a lot of the flat strips and then laminated them with two-part epoxy, allowing each piece to be set for at least four hours. Most of the chair involved this technique, alongside heating and bending the bamboo to fit the design for the seat, arms, and back. The final touches included a lot of gluing, filling, and sanding.  Even though it was slow and tricky, having the support from experienced carpenters and fellow classmates made a huge difference in getting the chair finished, right up until the very end. Their support was really helpful. For me, this building process was an excellent experience in collaboration and on-site decision making in real time.

How do you feel about the final outcome?

This project has been a journey of discovery for me, especially when it comes to understanding bamboo as a material. But it's been more than just learning about bamboo—it's been about exploring how technology and traditional materials can come together to create something amazing. Also, it has been a personal journey for me as well. It's taught me a lot about my own abilities and limitations, especially how I can visualize my design into reality with just a limited timeframe.

So, it can be said that crafting my own chair from bamboo has given me a deeper appreciation for the material and for the skill and craftsmanship of carpenters. Overall, this experience has been enlightening and fulfilling. It's opened my eyes to the beauty and potential of bamboo, and it's given me a newfound admiration for the craftsmanship involved in working with it.

Working with bamboo and being part of this community has been a joyful and unforgettable experience. I've had the honor of meeting many like-minded individuals who share my passion for bamboo to make a positive impact.

I want to express my gratitude to all the carpenters who helped me along the way, as well as the Bamboo U community. 

Thank you Bamboo U!

Join the next 11-day Build and Design Course, and let’s begin your bamboo journey! To know more and book the course: bamboou.com/11-day-course

About the author
Pamela Pascual | Sustainability Director

Pamela Pascual, a designer from the United States, joined the course to learn about bamboo from harvesting to processing. She hopes this experience will expand her skills and help her incorporate more eco-friendly materials into her projects in the future.

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