three-story, 23,000-square-foot building — made from more than 3,000
long, flexible poles — is crowned with a graceful, sloped ceiling nearly
50 feet high.
Frederick Schilling, co-owner of the Big Tree Farms factory, calls it his "bamboo cathedral."
tropical plant, favored in the West for flooring, furniture and
household accessories, is increasingly being viewed as the construction
material of choice from Africa to South America — and no longer just for
shacks and scaffolding.
Bali is leading the charge, attracting
carpenters, architects and designers from across the globe to use bamboo
in building everything from a school and luxury villas to exclusive
The plant, found in almost every equatorial nation, can
grow up to 4 feet in a single day, reaching the height of a giant oak in
less than six months. Some species are strong enough to be used for
construction in five years.
Cheap — costing just $3 to plant and
maintain one piece until it's ready to go — tough as concrete, with the
ability to bend, and incredibly abundant, the possibilities are almost
"Bamboo is definitely regarded as one of the most
sustainable building materials in the world," said Schilling, whose
factory is scheduled to start pumping out four to six varieties of rich
organic chocolate bars in January.
"As a bonus, it's also very beautiful to work with."
craze, bringing together entrepreneurial expats and local craftsmen,
started six years ago with the founding of a local bamboo production
company for the construction of Green School, an exclusive international
school with 275 students.
Since then, more than a dozen projects have sprung up across the so-called "island of the Gods."
Village, a collection of designer villas with individual price tags as
high as $750,000, sits down the Ayung River from Green School.
Fivelements, a holistic healing retreat, is just a few miles north.
Working with the plant requires a huge shift in the way designers think.
really comfortable in our culture and in architecture with straight
lines," said Elora Hardy, the creative director at Green Village. "And
bamboo is not a straight line."
Some poles start in the earth and rise three floors.
In both plans and building, "we have to really keep in mind the curve ... where it's going to end up at the top."
That's exciting and "infinitely complicated," Hardy said.
Ripple, Schilling's partner and the founder of Big Tree Farms, which
makes spices, salts and other artisanal products sold at gourmet food
stores such as Dean & DeLuca, said Bali is a "microcosm" for the
"What you get is a situation where five years on Bali shows
what happens over a 20-year-plus period in other more developed areas."
But whether the success of bamboo here can be replicated in cooler, dry climates remains to be seen.
building codes in Europe and the United States make large-scale
construction projects more difficult to take on, said Victor van Praag,
co-owner of PT Green Home, a bamboo design company.
Like any new
industry, bamboo construction remains in a constant state of innovation,
he added. The absence of well-defined standards allows for unrestrained
creativity: from developing longer-lasting treatments to experimenting
with design. But it also leaves room for unexpected problems.
DePuy, a sustainability planner who has lived and worked in Bali
full-time since 2004, said bamboo construction as it exists on the
resort island was too young to be a viable option in the West.
you manufacture bamboo into a product, it can be tested. It can be
given certifications," he said, using flooring as an example. "But if
you're just picking bamboo, cutting it down and putting it up, you've
left the certification to nature."
Gove rejects the idea of
bamboo becoming a worldwide super material. He said its large-scale use
should be limited to tropical regions where the plant's abundance,
affordability and proven strengths make it most practical.
Bamboo construction has also gotten attention in Columbia, Vietnam and China, the world's leader in bamboo production.
as green-minded expats have learned in Indonesia, their enthusiasm for
bamboo is rarely matched by local people, who often view the material as
"Indonesians only think that bamboo is used for
scaffolding," said Effan Adhiwira, an architect who worked on both Green
School and Green Village.
Overcoming that stigma remains a challenge for Adhiwira.
this year, he opened his own architecture studio in Jakarta,
Indonesia's bustling capital, where concrete and steel dominate the
urban landscape. He hopes to spread the message of bamboo — and ensure
its future as one of the world's leading green materials — by hosting
university and community workshops across the country.
and Schilling see it, their chocolate factory is simply one of the
newest and biggest examples of the plant's untapped potential.
has been there in front of our noses all along," Ripple said. "This is
not a revolution. It is an awakening to the wisdom that Indonesians have
known for a long, long time."