Ingenious & indigenous: innovative school design made of bamboo, other indigenous materials


First of two parts

MORE often than not, schools in the Philippines double as emergency evacuation centers in times of calamities. With the Philippines ranked as the third most vulnerable country to disasters, it is imperative that our schools be redesigned using cost-effective materials that the locals are already familiar with and can easily be taught and shared. Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) was a wake-up call that our schools need to be redesigned into more resilient, versatile, and sustainable shelters for students and evacuees.

According to the recently released Global Risks Report for 2014 by the World Economic Forum, this year will be an important year for addressing climate risks. There has been limited progress on issues on emissions reduction, loss and damage compensation, and adaptation. To combat the onset of climate change, greater progress is urgently needed to create incentives and mechanisms to finance action against climate change.

Schools, like hospitals, are specially required by the National Structural Code to be designed to withstand extreme forces. With the increasing awareness of environmentally sound structures, a prototype school design made by our firm, Palafox Associates, aims to prove that using renewable, resilient, sustainable, readily available, and easily replaceable construction material will cut down construction costs by at least 30-50 percent as a major construction component and will be able to withstand the top three disasters that affect the country every year: Storms, earthquakes, and floods.

The versatility of bamboo
For many years, bamboo has been given the uninspiring moniker of a “poor man’s lumber.” In fact, a case study on the value chain of plantation wood, rattan and bamboo in Leyte, by the Environment and Rural Development Program (ENRD), states that most of the bamboo is harvested and used for the production of furniture and arts and crafts. However, in recent years, due to the new public interest in going green, bamboo has steadily gained popularity not only as a material to use for products, but for buildings as well.

Its reputation as a fast-growing plant makes it an ideal and renewable building resource, with a reported growth rates of 250 cm (98 in) in 24 hours, carbon sequestration capacities, and a low cost production energy. I was talking to Philippine Bamboo Foundation, Inc. (PBFI) President Edgardo Manda yesterday about the benefits of bamboo. The PFBI is a nongovernment organization that hosts the biggest bamboo

nursery for the entire Visayas and Mindanao, with at least 40 bamboo species grown in the nursery site in Dauin, Negros Oriental. While most woods used for construction can be harvested only once every 20 years, bamboo can be harvested every 3-4 years and, after going through a one-month treatment process (where newly cut bamboo trunks are soaked in preservatives to get rid of the starchiness that can make it susceptible to fire and termite infestation), treated bamboo can last for as long as 30 years.

Harvesting bamboo also takes about half the time and manpower—all you need is a machete or a hacksaw. Compared with concrete and steel, bamboo experts say, bamboo possesses incredible tensile strength that makes it an ideal material for innovative and forward-thinking architects and designers to use. Edgardo Manda of the PBFI has been promoting bamboo planting as an alternative to reforestation for many years.

Bamboo has also been used extensively in many countries as a means for erosion control, riverbank protection and landslide prevention. In fact, most building construction works in Asia (especially in China) use bamboo as scaffolding because of its capacity to resist high winds. Bamboo immediately adds an elegant quality to wherever landscape it is planted in, and has inspired artists for thousands of years to create poems and paintings on the aesthetic beauty and quality of the bamboo plant.

The versatility and strength of bamboo have been proven in recent years in the Philippines and elsewhere in the world. In the Philippines, a prototype school made from bamboo, the first in the Philippines, was built in 2010 based on the winning design of Eleena Jamil of Malaysia. A year later, a 23-meter free span bamboo bridge was built in Matina, Davao City. The arch-reinforced, pre-tensioned Howe truss bamboo bridge has a concrete base and expected to last for at least 25 years. It proved its strength right away when a flash flood swept through the community. Most of the houses and structures were destroyed, except the bamboo bridge, and it became the evacuation platform and lifeline in the aftermath.

Design innovations
With its structural capability that is equal, if not greater, than the manufactured construction materials that we have been used to, the Sustainable, Strong School and Evacuation Center (S3H), the prototype school Palafox Associates designed, is a vernacular transformation of the traditional Filipino native hut (bahay kubo) from the “institutionalized” classroom design and reintroduces the sustainable, adaptable,

durable, economical, and functional qualities of the bahay kubo back into the consciousness of the Filipino students and community. The S3H is designed with the Filipino cultural value and community in mind, with its distinct triangular structural shape of the bahay kubo that evokes familiarity, security and a temporary safe house from disasters. The bahay kubo’s high-pitched roof and long eaves provided the structural outline for the S3H, which evokes a sense of familiarity and shelter.

(Part 2 will appear next Thursday)


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