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Building with Bamboo: A workshop on bamboo as a building material

Bamboo is a common building material used in traditional architecture of Northeast India. Given the keen local interest in bamboo, AS (Architects of Sikkim) along with BREW (an acronym for bakery, retail, event and workshop) and SREDA (Sikkim Renewal Energy Development Agency), a government agency under the department of rural management, organized a GREEN building workshop in Gangtok, Sikkim. Taking off from there BREW and members of AS initiated a project to build with bamboo.

The workshop that saw participation from people across the country provided a platform for cross discussion between the resource people, the architects of Sikkim, students and the civil society. An informal design ‘competition’ was floated among the local design/ architecture fraternity with site specification and functional usage. Of the seven designs that were deliberated by the participants, one was selected to create a study model by all the participants.

The study model was made to understand the form and some aspects of structural strength. Broom sticks were used to understand the form, structural components and the scale. It also allowed for design changes and joineries exploration. A rough model was made using broom sticks and glue and gave the participants an idea about the form, the pressure points and the amount of bamboo to be utilized. The rough model helped in understanding the amount of bamboo required, the required length of bamboo and the various types of joineries to be explored. This also became an exercise of working in collaboration and building consensus. BREW and members of AS then initiated a project to use bamboo to build a scale model having the exact scale dimension, floor contours and tensile members wherever required. A scale model was then built with exact scale dimension, floor contours and tensile members wherever required. All the participants shared a common feeling of needing hands on knowledge of the nature and character of bamboo and that this was an exploratory project.

The challenges of the project included limitation to the amount of bamboo that could be used, setting up a deck along with a hammock and a play area for kids including a staircase and creating aesthetically appealing structure whilst making optimum use of all the properties of bamboo. Moreover, as the programme was held in March during the monsoons, bamboo could not be cut in Sikkim and dried bamboo had to be brought from Siliguri (West Bengal).

To erect the model structure, the land was dug two feet deep in a cylindrical shape, which was then covered with four feet tall wiremesh on the periphery. Big stones were laid on the base to a height of two feet, almost to the level of the ground. The bamboo structure rested on the stones to avoid immediate contact with the ground water so that the bamboo would not rot. The bamboo base was covered with plastic sheet and later covered with gravels. This was the foundation for the whole structure.

After the basic structure was laid out on the very first day, joineries were the next detail that required ideation. The participants first tried with nylon ropes, which however started slipping making tight knots impossible. Jute ropes were not an option as it withered fast, so they opted for bolting which structurally gave the required strength. Roofing was one element which was not thought of during the model making stage, but was figured as the participants went along. Likewise, different situations called for discussions and identification of appropriate joinery details. No scaffolding was used in the construction which was a deliberate decision. The weather held and many eager and intelligent hands brought the design to life.


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