Today was really remarkable – in so many ways. First off, we went to the construction site. Let me see if I can help you feel what I did as the school came into view… the school bus dropped us off on the road as the muddy dirt path is ill-suited for a 4-wheel drive, much less a school bus. So we trudged thru the mud and up the path to the clearing where the school is being built. There are Howler monkeys growling in the background in a very disconcerting low rumble. The usual sounds of geckos are chirping around you, and birds are calling back and forth. The vegetation is very green since it has been raining every day. And the air on the walk is still and quiet.
As we step up to the clearing the first thing you notice is the breeze that gently cools the air, immediately evaporating the sweat from your arms. When you look up you see the light filtering through the trees – you almost don’t notice the building, the beauty of the space is so eye catching. Finally, you see the unfinished building and as you stop you look and wonder and admire and are blown away by the elegance of the school.
Austin Drill, the general contractor, is creating a work of art. Now, here’s the kicker…he’s doing it with what is considered building materials traditionally used by only the poorest of the local inhabitants – bamboo.
Richard Krushnic, the project manager, explains about the stigma attached to bamboo. He tells us the bamboo is used only by the very poor because it is thought to be less durable and grows so readily that it is easy to pull down and use. But Austin has been using it in a vastly different way. He has chosen to use construction grade bamboo that has been cured using the same process as building lumber. The entire process creates a product strong enough for main support beams and beautiful enough to be a work of art. The process is far more complicated than I can even begin to explain, but trust me when I say, that building ain’t comin’ down.
However, there is still the stigma of poverty attached to the building material. After all, the students attending this school are among the poorest of the region. You don’t want to enhance the image of poverty-stricken students.
So, Austin has created bamboo architectural highlights by making the bamboo the minority features rather than the majority. For example, in the reception room, three walls are fine plaster over the bamboo substructure, and one wall (directly behind the desk) is highly varnished and slatted bamboo.
Somewhere else the trusses are left exposed only enough to see the half round of the support beams. All of this comes together to make what could have been perceived as a poverty into a beautiful building that invites you in and makes you want to stay.
The windows are placed to capitalize on the breezes that move through the unfinished rooms, and the roof extends far enough to keep the rain off the outdoor walkway. The entire building is a marvelous blending of form and function. You can see the strength of the building in the exposed bamboo. It is still months from having it’s beauty layers applied, but to me, she already shines.
This is the first building of the proposed campus and will be occupied by the students of the upper two classes and the administration. It will have four classrooms, a combination library and computer lab, an administrative office, and a kitchenette and half bath.
The rest of the campus will include a second building of classrooms that may have movable walls to open into a large auditorium, a bathroom building with a system that completely reclaims waste and processes it into usable water and compost for the plants.
The hope is, that like the lessons learned in the building, the building itself will be an education to the next generation of architects.
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