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Felino A. Palafox Jr.: Visionary architect


So many new and strong materials for construction are available now. Indigenous materials like bamboo, palm, etc., can these be used for building in new form?


For many years, bamboo has been given the uninspiring moniker of a “poor man’s lumber.” In fact, a case study on the value chain of plantation wood, rattan and bamboo in Leyte, by the Environment and Rural Development Program (ENRD), states that most of the bamboo is harvested and used for the production of furniture and arts and crafts. However, in recent years, due to the new public interest in going green, bamboo has steadily gained popularity not only as a material to use for products, but for buildings as well.


Its reputation as a fast-growing plant makes it an ideal and renewable building resource, with a reported growth rates of 250 cm (98 in) in 24 hours, carbon sequestration capacities, and a low cost production energy. I talked to Philippine Bamboo Foundation Inc. (PBFI) President Edgardo Manda before about the benefits of bamboo. The PFBI is a nongovernment organization that hosts the biggest bamboo nursery for the entire Visayas and Mindanao, with at least 40 bamboo species grown in the nursery site in Dauin, Negros Oriental. While most woods used for construction can be harvested only once every 20 years, bamboo can be harvested every 3-4 years and, after going through a one-month treatment process (where newly cut bamboo trunks are soaked in preservatives to get rid of the starchiness that can make it susceptible to fire and termite infestation), treated bamboo can last for as long as 30 years.


Harvesting bamboo also takes about half the time and manpower — all you need is a machete or a hacksaw. Compared with concrete and steel, bamboo experts say, bamboo possesses incredible tensile strength that makes it an ideal material for innovative and forward-thinking architects and designers to use. Edgardo Manda of the PBFI has been promoting bamboo planting as an alternative to reforestation for many years. Bamboo has also been used extensively in many countries as a means for erosion control, riverbank protection and landslide prevention. In fact, most building construction works in Asia (especially in China) use bamboo as scaffolding because of its capacity to resist high winds.


Bamboo immediately adds an elegant quality to wherever landscape it is planted in, and has inspired artists for thousands of years to create poems and paintings on the aesthetic beauty and quality of the bamboo plant. The versatility and strength of bamboo have been proven in recent years in the Philippines and elsewhere in the world. In the Philippines, a prototype school made from bamboo, the first in the Philippines, was built in 2010 based on the winning design of Eleena Jamil of Malaysia. A year later, a 23-meter free span bamboo bridge was built in Matina, Davao City. The arch-reinforced, pre-tensioned Howe truss bamboo bridge has a concrete base and expected to last for at least 25 years. It proved its strength right away when a flash flood swept through the community. Most of the houses and structures were destroyed, except the bamboo bridge, and it became the evacuation platform and lifeline in the aftermath.

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