As a natural building material, bamboo seems capable of quite a bit: it grows abundantly in hot climates, replenishing itself quickly; it's also strong and durable, earning it the nickname of "green steel." From urban domes to vaulted modern structures, architects and builders are elevating this humble but versatile material to new heights.
In Chiang Mai, Thailand, architecture firm Chiangmai Life created this stunning new open-air recreational hall for the Panyaden International School, which infuses Buddhist ideas and philosophy into their curriculum. Undulating and organic in shape, the new sports hall blends into the surrounding landscape is inspired by the form of the lotus blossoming toward the ground, a metaphor for the enlightened mind.
The hall measures 782 square metres (8,417 square feet) and can hold up to 300 students. Its flexible design means that it can accommodate not only different kinds of sports activities but also performances as well. The school's mission to build sustainably has resulted in a low-carbon structure, shaded and ventilated naturally, and without the carbon burden of transporting carbon-intensive materials from far away.
Most interestingly, the hall has been built with newly developed prefabricated bamboo trusses, which span almost 56 feet (17 metres) without steel reinforcements or connections -- an impressive feat and yet another example of modern ingenuity working in harmony with traditional building techniques and materials that sequester carbon. Rather than turning to toxic chemicals to preserve it, the bamboo has been treated with borax salt to prevent decay, and is estimated to last at least 50 years.
According to the architects, the structure has been built in collaboration with engineers to ensure it can resist strong winds and earthquakes. Beyond this sports hall, the rest of the school's buildings are made with natural materials like rammed earth or bamboo. Other green practices include rainwater harvesting, using greywater to nourish plants, composting food waste for fertilizer and in order to produce biogas for cooking in the school's kitchen.
It's been said that our current environmental crisis is also a crisis of education: kids aren't being taught the basic ideas of where our food and materials come from, where waste goes, and what it means to live intelligently on a finite planet. Schools like this that incorporate environmentally responsible ideas and practices into their buildings and daily school life are the exception rather than the rule, but it's one inspiring role model of what could be possible if education were approached from a sustainability standpoint. To see more, visit Chiangmai Life.