Over the past 5 years since we’ve launched Bamboo U, we have seen students join us from all around the world. Many join with the intention of starting their own bamboo project. We have seen bamboo education centres, play spaces, eco-hotels, restaurants and more being built all over the globe as a result of students joining Bamboo U. In this article we feature an article written by Aoife and Julien, young designers and entrepreneurs who joined Bamboo U in October 2019. Afterwhich they began the design and development of their project in Sri Lanka called UNA Bamboo – an eco hotel.
Alumni Names: Aoife & Julien
Name of Project: UNA Bamboo Eco-Hotel
Year attended Bamboo U: October 2019
Una is Sinhala for bamboo, the wonder grass that is at the heart of our eco-hotel concept; the first project of its kind in Sri Lanka to utilise native Sri Lankan bamboo to this scale.
In collaboration with Nomadic Resorts architect Olav Bruin and his team we have designed a 6 key bamboo eco-hotel and garden-to-fork restaurant set on 1.5 acres of lush tropical food gardens, in the up-and-coming south coast village of Ahangama.
By choosing to design our eco-hotel with low carbon, locally sourced materials like bamboo, clay and grass we have the power to generate positive changes in the built environment of tourism in Sri Lanka. We are looking well into the future at the full lifecycle of the material choices we make today, making responsible decisions from the ground up.
The proof of concept will establish a local bamboo supply chain, creating the model for further sustainable, bamboo developments in the country. We hope UNA will inspire others to make more sustainable building choices, looking to materials that are available locally to make beautiful structures, so we can grow and develop in a more responsible way.
We joined Bamboo U to connect with leaders in bamboo design, innovation and building technology, a sort of pilgrimage to the beating heart of the global bamboo community. The biggest inspirational piece for us about Bamboo U was the incredible setting of The Kul Kul Farm; low-impact, beautiful bamboo dwellings, an amazing team of passionate people, delicious, organic food growing all around and prepared daily with care and love, and a meeting of link-minded souls from all around the world.
Community is everything, and the global bamboo community that we connected with at Bamboo U is a truly special one. We are yet to meet someone who has touched bamboo that hasn’t fallen totally in love with this plant – that makes for a very passionate, and inclusive community that we’re very proud to be part of.
With the design of UNA Bambu we wanted the space to influence more meaningful connections to the natural world in a very tangible and tactile way, through the material quality of the living space, as well as the openness of that space to the natural surroundings, without compromising on comfort. Overall, we believe that these types of dynamic living environments contribute intrinsically to better health and well-being.
Bamboo Building Concepts
The eco hotel includes 6 villas, 1 main pavilion, a public toilet, 1 meditation shala and 1 studio/workshop space. The concept we followed was of a living organism. Making the microcosmos accessible to humans where the buildings are composed of giant cells clustered functionally together.
Developing the concept/ Final structural model
The column design used throughout the structures is a hyperbolic paraboloid which we also learnt about during Bamboo U. This was designed for dendrocalamus asper and dendrocalamus strictus; asper for the structural column frames and strictus for the grid elements. However neither species, asper or strictus, are native to Sri Lanka and therefore can be difficult to source in large quantities. With this in mind we have also been exploring the use of locally available species dendrocalamus giganteus, dencrocalamus latiflorus and bambusa balcooa.
Thanks to Arief Rabik’s guidance during the Bamboo U 11 Day Immersion in Bali we have been able to identify the various qualities to look for in construction bamboos; altitude, colour, characteristics in the way the bamboo grows, wall thickness, etc. Experience is key when identifying bamboos, and through the skills learned during Bamboo U we can now confidently identify if a bamboo has the potential for use in construction.
Further, we have been able to pass the key principles of sustainable bamboo harvesting to local growers, ensuring their bamboo clumps can continue to provide a source of revenue for years to come.
Building the bamboo structure
Sourcing and treating have been the main challenges in Sri Lanka. As yet there are no mature commercial bamboo plantations, so bamboo is being sourced “wild”. We’re constantly chasing leads, from private estates to back yard plots, and beyond!
Treating, again, is not something which has been carried out in a large scale, commercial way in Sri Lanka to date. Since Bamboo U we have set up a small-scale treatment facility in order that we can carry out the treatment process “in-house”. Arief’s teachings, and his book, have informed massively how we approached this process.
We’re very lucky also to have had the expert guidance of Jorg Stamm throughout this process, who is very familiar with the bamboo landscape in Sri Lanka having done a number of workshops here. Of course, we also have Bamboo U to thank for this connection.
We were very conscious when designing the project that the local carpenters do not have the same skill set with bamboo as the master bamboo carpenters of Bali. With this in mind, the structures were designed in such a way that suits the skill set of the local artisans, meaning there is no complex joinery required in the construction, and all structures are single story.
In conclusion, we have learned that working with bamboo requires an in-depth understanding of its characteristics and its habitat. Sri Lanka has provided us with the perfect opportunity to do just that, completely immersing ourselves in all aspects of working with this plant, alongside the people who are developing the industry here. We’re all learning together and growing the Sri Lankan bamboo community as we go!
Are you an impact investor looking to contribute to the growth of a sustainable bamboo industry in Sri Lanka, and a greener, cleaner future of travel? If so, Aiofe and Julian would love to hear from you. Reach out to us today at [email protected].