The AAVS Bamboo Lab is a nomadic research programme of the Architectural Association Visiting School which explores the fusion of computational design software and bamboo through design projects in geopolitical situations where bamboo can be a catalyst for resilient buildings, economic development and ecological restoration. In November 2018, for the seventh course, 46 students from around the world took part in the course in which the AA VS collaborated with the Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB). In a change to the original brief, the course proposed a role bamboo could play to provide designs for core housing in Medana Village, Lombok. This was in the aftermath of the August 2018 earthquake and to support an ongoing project at ITB in Medana Village, Lombok.
The context of the Brief
On August 5, 2018, an earthquake hit the Island of Lombok. As the earthquake occurred at a relatively shallow depth and a powerful magnitude, it caused severe shaking in the island of Lombok and strong shaking in the neighbouring islands. Two months later, on September 28, an earthquake hit central Sulawesi causing the deadliest earthquake so far in 2018 and a tsunami which devastated the city of Palu. These two disasters in Indonesia, a country with nearly 70% of low-income housing is built without seismic or climatic consideration, caused the deaths of over 2,000. Therefore, how can we as architects design resilient adequate housing, and incorporate the use of local, sustainable, natural materials such as bamboo?
Improving the durability of bamboo is a key challenge which needs to be researched and addressed in order to provide end users with the means to live comfortably alongside bamboo. The perception of bamboo as the 'poor man's timber' is a major hurdle to this lightweight sustainable material being used. In areas prone to heavy rains, flooding and earthquakes, we need to find innovative ways to use this material whilst still providing functional, habitable and safe environments for the occupants.
The course was divided between working with machetes and full culm bamboo outside, and physical model making and using computer software in the studio such as Rhinoceros, Grasshopper and Karamba. Computers present us with a highly accurate tool, however, the indeterminacy of the bamboo and construction practices in the less economically developed areas of the world, currently render this level of accuracy impotent. As part of this process we ask, how can we bridge the gap which has emerged between computer modelling of bamboo, and the realities of bamboo construction?
Students were asked to produce a concept design for incremental housing for a family of four. Groups would need to consider the core, and each increment of development, as well as conceiving the bamboo structural system from the initial stage, which were to be lightweight, sustainable, and resilient to the threats faced by the communities of Lombok, and Indonesia. In doing this the hope is to change perceptions of bamboo as a material to live alongside.
From an initial exercise which identified the perceived needs of the residents of Medana Village students were exposed to introductions to seismic design, and the Sasak culture of Lombok. Design groups began sketching out the core house and proposed expansion diagrammatically in 2D also considering the changing family size and structure over the life of the house. From these initial diagrammatic sketches, the physicality of structure was introduced through physical modelling in which a finite amount of bamboo skewers was used to mimic full culm bamboo. A finite amount of material was given to each design group in order to refine ideas and allow the cannibalisation of 'unsuccessful' models for bamboo skewers to use in other 'more successful' models and come towards a design proposal with an idea of scale. This would also allow groups to consider connection details and the protection of the bamboo culms from UV light, moisture and connection to the ground. In the studio design groups developed their projects, and brought their physical models into the computer, using software such as Rhinoceros 3D, Grasshopper, Karamba and Galapagos.
Using Grasshopper, design groups could modify their models efficiently, specify relationships among parameters and output versions or iterations of their design responding to variations of site constraints, site orientations, topography or material parameters. Such research included the modification of the diameter of bamboo culms, density of grids relative to structural need or material size and deforming a parabolic surface to study the rotation of the poles during deformation. The latter answered a key question regarding the buildability of Group 3's project. Also, using Galapagos, it was possible to determine the minimum amount of bamboo to be used within a component developed by Group 6, and determine the largest covered area possible with a minimum amount of material. These processes aimed to save time, material and cost which are all critical given the context of the brief.
Computer modelling presented as many questions as were solved and the next stage was to take the machetes and drills and prototype with locally sourced bamboo. This one to one scale prototyping was carried out by several groups related to their projects. Group 6 built their component at 1:1 scale in order to determine the differences between the computer and building with bamboo. Four modules were produced in order to build the prototype structure of the core house within two days.
By developing projects, testing them using advanced architectural software, and then identifying the challenges in translating these designs to built assets, the hope is we can close this gap and develop a design portfolio, as well as a process which can improve the durability and aesthetic appeal of bamboo as a material which is the democratic choice of the end user to live alongside. If this is successful then architects can have greater tools to progress the use of lightweight, sustainable, locally sourced natural materials to deliver adequate housing, seismic and climatically resilient communities and support ecological restoration.
Photos: Courtesy of AAVS