The Build: Urban Bamboo Tinyhouse Earthship (SkyKubu)
The Bamboo House Design is intended to be applicable by/for local people living in developing/post-colonised countries – who work for very low wages in comparison to people living in “western”/ developed countries and yet who make up a over 70% percent of the world’s population. Essentially, if emerging trends of housing development, deforestation and resource use don’t change in developing countries NOW – I.E. where a ‘new riche’ is creating a rising tide of consumption, non-sustainable building (methods and design) increased resource-use (air-cons, fridges…) and other ‘modernisations’ – then even IF comparatively “rich” westerners globally were to shift towards building from bamboo and living “sustainably”…. What good is it really? Like a friend in Philippines stated: Aren’t we just re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic?
Most people I’ve come across in my travels in Asia think that bamboo is only for poor people, or just the very rich. If bamboo is to become “the building material of the future” then it needs to be made accessible to the majority of the Earth’s population (especially those living in the tropics/subtropics). So the primary aim at a practical level, has been to develop a design for a Bamboo Tiny-House Earthship suitable for tropical and sub-tropical environments that is low-cost and able to be built by 4-6 people in an urban or rural area. I wanted the design to demonstrate how bamboo can be utilised in the “modern sense” and appeal to developing country populations.
Bamboo – because it’s a fast-growing renewable material, we want to share at a practical level how to preserve it and ensure its longevity. Many people in developing countries have existing skills (at risk of being lost) to work with this material but they are not “valued” because without proper treatment bamboo will only last 5-7 years, and most communities lack this practical knowledge.
Earthship – because, even though the Earthship ‘signature’ car tyres are not a freely available ‘indigenous’ material in SE Asia where we’re based (we pay $1-2 per tyre), our design aims to create a home that produces its own food and energy, deals with its own waste and lessens unsustainable resource consumption.
Tiny-house – because we aim for a maximum efficiency, low budget portable design that meet the needs of the changing world community who either a) live in developing countries and are bound by the financial constraints of living on low wages (less than $10/day), land area shortages and lack of material availabilty/affordability or b) are living in developed countries and prefer not to take up lifestyles and jobs which lead to further global decay and want to Be the change by living a low-consumption resource-friendly lifestyle and contribute to the proliferation of renewable innovative technologies.
My design is made in the “village-style”; it’s unusual for a traditional bamboo building to be higher than 2-level so I’ve dubbed it sky-kubu or sky-shack in other words.
SO My priority has been to find treatment method to prevent insect attack on bamboo that can be practiced affordably at a village-scale as this is the main barrier (I see practically) to people in developing countries utilising bamboo as a building material. So far I’ve completely failed (using more fashionably “organic” and expensive means out of necessity). We are presently experimenting with other locally-accessible methods but borax has become illegal in Indonesia because someone tried to make a bomb out of it apparently… It is still possible to source (with a bureaucratic process attached) but STILL – it’s unaffordable for most people on a local wage rate; unless collectively purchased and planned for. We are working on creative collective solutions to help bridge the divide through sharing renewable technologies and knowledge of treatments methods for making bamboo a long-term sustainable resource in developing countries: Find out more about how YOU can be part of our Outreach Projects.
The base site is reclaimed rice-field… the area was pretty soggy and i had no idea how to set and fill tyres on/in it to make an Earthship-base like i originally intended… but now i KNOW (hehehe) to just fill the area and then put car tyres on top. Seismic activity is felt quite strongly in our area, apparently because of the clayey/wet ground; a car tyre foundation would have moved-with the earth’s motion. But… I’m glad in a way that i used a cement foundation (and stone) as I think the horizontal pressure from the height of the building (13m) needs to be “tied-in” rigidly (and it is less challenging to “western” building codes). And, as I’m no expert in Earthship building… better I explain my idea to someone who is and just demonstrate the bamboo structure for now. So for this structure, we’ve used steel rock and cement footings…
The Design Yard
My original concept evolved from wanting to design an Earthship cyclone shelter/windship for an all-abilities community project in North Queensland following my experience in the Philippines after Typoon Yolanda (volunteering on the Windship build in Dalug, Tacloban). The idea was to have an Earthship as the base and then an open metal/steel-framed structure above anchored into the Earthship (elevated to catch the tropical breeze because it’s no fun living on the ground in the tropics) with wall linings and roofing (renewable/woven/mosquito-netting) that can “blow out” in a cyclone and be replaced easily. This was before I had really experienced bamboo… I had only observed natural/traditional roofing and walling styles on visiting Malaysia in 2011.
Our model for the house, made by Supri Yanto, comes from an adaptation on a design Djuka Montanero owner of Farmer’s Yard Hostel in Canggu brought to Bali from Java (near Jogja). It is based on a rice-barn (Lumbung) building… a common sight around Indonesia. I helped out building his bamboo lumbung at “the Yard” on my visit to Bali in 2016… Our version is ‘slightly’ wider (by 2m between the pillars) and a fair bit taller… We are around 5m x 6m floorspace on each of the 2 upper bamboo floors and 4.5m between the pillars/foundations in the lower level.
The highest point of the roof is around 13m from ground level (top of the foundation). I’m not sure if this house still fits into the “Tiny” category… Originally the design is intended to be knock-down (removable) but I don’t fancy moving this building as it’s been practically built-in now by the surrounding buildings. Other design aims are: to be able to produce an entire house free of “factory-processes” (making it more affordable), able to be built by a small work crew of 6-8 people in a remote or urban area; and, to meet design/safety standards/regulations in more developed countries.
And Here’s the Boo…
I ended up using a product called Freemite (a non-toxic natural product made from chilli, neem, camphor and nano-something) to treat my bamboo and constructed a bath 1.5m x 9m long to soak the bamboo poles. It cost around AUD $400 to treat the first 90 bamboo poles (which turned out to be 80 treated as 10 pieces were stolen by local kids to make kites but then were returned later and these have actually given me a control to see the effectiveness of the treatment method). Freemite ‘expires’ after 30 days so I purchased more to treat the following bamboo order (but that bamboo was younger, not harvested in the ‘correct’ season and i was pressed for time and the treatment was rushed and not effective). I also purchased pre-treated (boiled with borax) from a local bamboo supplier for a few of the other bamboo orders.
The initial bamboo sourcing and transport mission took nearly a month to source and organise… It was interesting. .. Interesting when a 12m truck won’t fit down your street and so you have to unload on the main road and then somehow move 92 pieces of freakin heavy 8-8.5m bamboo poles about 500m (which we ended up doing with 6 people and a smaller truck – just day-breaking it after finally getting our shit together after 11pm the night before. . . Don’t have photos of that one. But, that bamboo was harvested just before the end of the dry season during the cooler weather on the dark moon and has had the least insect problems.
We cleaned the icky hairs from the nodes of the bamboo culms (which are quite hazardous to breathe in so … use masks :-)) And then hollowed out the nodes which we ‘invented’ a tool for to work in small spaces. Getting the bamboo culms into and out of the Freemite bath to protect against insects and termites was always a group activity …
We called in some apprentices from our neighbours Bali Street Kids, and found talent to say the least. Alfred was a natural on the tools and stayed on to learn carpentry with Arief and Supri. Johannas who came over a few times in the afternoon is the originator of the Bamboo Stars idea; he just started making a star one day from bamboo in our trash pile.
A bamboo crew from West Bali then came to construct the roof, walls and finish the flooring, make the stairs. I’m currently working on putting together an Ebook/pdf with video links about this build and what I have learned … so far… So if you’d like to support me and pre-purchase it, you can here:
Bamboo E-book by Natalie Davenport
My experience learning to build with bamboo in Bali. I'm not sure when the book will be finalised. When I have enough funds to pay an editor it will get done.
And here is Annabelle… our upcycled reclaimed doll from the Bali Street Kids orphanage next door… who’s ‘designer’ fabric scraps were sifted from the fill loads that came to our site along with plastic and other trash; her nonchalant expression giving some befuddled amusement to some of our moments…
If you’d like to join our bamboo and natural earth building experience, and learn about bamboo, design, carpentry and specifically this lumbung village-style design Sign up for our Bamboo Courses… Come and help build our therapy play-space for special kids in Denpasar!