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Image above: Cathedral in Pereira  (Colombia) built by Simón Velez as a temporary structure while the main cathedral was being rebuilt/repaired after the 1999 earthquake; source: internet

Always a fan of vernacular construction techniques and local materials,  I can’t pass out the opportunity to recommend some wonderful workshops on bamboo, and of course, to talk a bit about the material, its background and relevance in urban development.

Bamboo has recently gained attention as it is very much a renewable material and aptly used for construction. In fact, as a graminea- not a tree- bamboo is, as the saying goes, “strong as oak and grows like weed”. It’s structural capacities and accessibility has made it a predominant material in informal settlements in Latin America and other tropical regions, and has acquired the material the title of “poor man’s timber”.  And though, bamboo in fact provides some opportunities for many of the urban poor in the particular contexts, the reputation “poor man’s timber” does not do it justice regarding its potential and possibilities.

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Informal settlements in Manizales (Colombia); source: internet

Specifically referring to Colombia where the particular species of bamboo grows, Guadua, it is incredible how bamboo has been the catalyst of development for the country’s entire coffee region (the majority of original structures where primarily built with bahareque construction (waddle and dub) using bamboo as a primary structural material, as where the carts initially used to carry the coffee beans). Although the Colombian landscape is filled with 100 + year old bamboo structures, in the more recent decades, the material was deemed “too vernacular and rural”, or for the “poor”, and not appropriate for “modern construction” nor glamorous enough to be included in the country’s construction code next to concrete. It took a major disaster – the 1999 earthquake in Colombia’s coffee region-to challenge perception.  After the earthquake, the only structures left standing where the bamboo structures … This prompted an re-acknowledgement of the vernacular, a celebration of ‘the local’ and a quick inclusion of bamboo in the construction code. Today, Colombia has one of the only parasismic bamboo constructions codes in the world (I believe the Philippines is now also developing one on similar grounds and with the help of Colombian experts as well).

And it doesn’t stop at construction… it is a great material for reforestation purposes (bamboo can grow the height of a tree in 6 months), it can be used for soil remediation and water recovery (it’s long roots pull up the water and retain it while not drying up the land), to counter erosion (ravine mitigation is a strong use), to eat (bamboo shoots), to do crafts… and more. It is truly an incredible and fascinating material!

If you have the ability to travel to Colombia for these workshops, organized by world renown bamboo taxonomist Ximena Londoño, to see and learn more about bamboo’s built and unbuilt landscapes, I highly encourage it!

More info HERE: http://www.BAMBUTURISMO.com

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