The House Bamboo Built
Elora Hardy’s weightless and soaring bamboo residences in Bali have earned her a worldwide reputation for innovative and sustainable design.
Hardy came to her role as founder and creative director for the architectural firm Ibuku through her father, John Hardy, who himself founded the Green School in Bali, and inspired her to leave the fashion world in New York and return to the place she grew up.
With modern forms constructed by craftspeople using both traditional and new techniques, the multilevel luxury houses represent a fusion of the old, new, and inspirational.
We interviewed Hardy to find out more about the kind of woman who would take such a leap, and what the future holds for bamboo construction.
Zady: What about your background prepared you for this project?
Hardy: The most relevant skill I have is having grown up in Bali and having this dialogue to build on with the craftsmen of Bali. I speak the language, of course. My parents were in the jewelry business and would let me make things. I was constantly working on creative projects through 14 when I left.
I went to a fine art school in Boston and ended up working in New York for Donna Karan designing fabrics, and saw what my dad was up to in Bali. He had founded Green School, pulled together a team of people from around the world and found local craftspeople to build the school. He thought it should be built out of bamboo, because it’s not only sustainable, but beautiful.
There I was in New York and I couldn’t find a way to be green in the industry I was in. I didn’t originally plan to come to Bali and lead the company, but when I came back, it became apparent what the possibilities were. I don’t know if you would call it a transition–I just took the leap. I founded my brand, Ibuku. It means “my mother,” it’s a reference to Mother Earth.
My dad was founding and funding the Green School, and he had to build an entire campus to do it. The buildings on campus had to represent something about the future to the kids. We don’t know how much oil and concrete and wood will be available, but you can be sure there will be plenty of bamboo.
What other materials are used besides bamboo?
The foundations are done in concrete. We do kitchen counters out of these huge river boulders. We went to java to get it. They have 20 little saw blades attached to a car motor, and it takes about four days to saw the boulders like a slice of bread. Then we cut them to fit them together. I don’t make claims about the sustainably of the other materials. The plumbing and electricity is all relatively conventional. We have glass windows and metal bolts.
What problems does using bamboo solve?
It’s such a unique and different material to be using architecturally. It solved the problem of being stuck in a box design wise. I hear from other architects that it’s hard to think of something new that people are excited about. Well, we can’t help it. It would be much harder to conform it to regular shapes, but we follow what the bamboo’s strengths are. The result is something that has a distinctive, unique look.
What are the drawbacks to using bamboo?
Normally a building is based on squares, working with two by fours, rectangular pieces of solid wood. Bamboo is round, it’s hollow, and it tapers, and it usually bends in more than one direction.
Instead of making blueprints we make bamboo models. There’s a scale model that looks exactly like the house. The craftsmen measure the model with a bamboo ruler, then go to the stockpile and take a pole that is shaped that way. There are slices of bamboo, and hand whittled pins holding it down. Taking a piece of plywood and putting it on the structure would be a million times easier than what we do. It’s really a labor of love.
What is a typical house in Indonesia made of today? Traditionally?
In Bali, traditionally, they made mud and straw bale structures. They mixed mud and earth with rice husks and rice straw. They built with a little bit of bamboo, though they didn’t have a treatment to protect it and it would get eaten by bugs. Many of those structures are getting replaced and mostly what they are using because the affordability the cinder block. There’s a lot of wood used in Indonesia–there’s not much regulation around the rainforest.
There is a trend of using antique teak structures and they’re quite beautiful. We use a little bit of that as well, but I feel like the teak is going to run out. There’s a story about Bill Gates building a sustainable home, and he used up three years worth of sustainable timber.
Do you think this bamboo house model is scalable?
It’s very much the innovation phase. It’s work intensive and costly, but we want to get it out there and get people’s attention as to what is possible, and ultimately hopefully there will be some trickle down in innovation.
The people who we’re building for are inspired by the product and are willing to pay a premium. Some are motivated by the environmental aspect, but many just love the product. So that’s the world we’re in right now.
Will you be staying in Bali for the foreseeable future?
I’m really proud to be working in Bali. The guys I’m working with, they’re carvers and they come from generations of families who have woodcarvers, like those carving temple gates. Many people in Bali are getting pulled into the tourist industry because it’s so exciting, but I really value the generations of skill, and I would like that to continue as well