Bamboo Living – An Awakening on Bali

In a world full of green buzz words these days such as ‘organic’, ‘carbon footprint’ and ‘green tech’, and where the threat of global warming has moved into the common consciousness of people, the ‘green touch’ is increasingly becoming a selling point. But how sustainable and environmentally friendly are in fact the companies, products and services claiming to be ‘green’?

“There are many hotels which have something ecological but only a tiny part and then call themselves ecological. That is the same as talking about a clean energy coal power plant – that simply does not exist. Either you pollute or you don’t; if it’s only an element – then you are not green,” states the developer as well as real estate broker Nils Wetterlind who operates on Bali in Indonesia – an island known among other things for its abundance of super luxury villas.

Some natural decoration here and there and an organic salad at the restaurant are simply not enough, he thinks.

Nils gives this example when he is about to explain how he himself one day did some serious rethinking about the way he operated his businesses and conducted his way of life.

His enthusiasm cannot be mistaken when he describes his new-found mission and what he has in the making on Bali: the world’s first entirely ecological five-star villa estate, The Green Village at Ayung River.

“And when I say the world’s first five star eco resort I really mean it, ‘cause there really is no such resort which is completely neutral on this planet yet.”

From hypocrite to genuinely ‘green’ advocate
“What I dislike the most is hypocrisy. I have been doing it all my life as a builder before I started this. I’ve built luxury villas – this one [points at a picture of villa] has 800 square metres of living space on a 3000 square-metre land plot. Only the pool wall made of glass cost 170 000 Singapore dollars. So we have built these kinds of houses. Then you use old planks and call yourself ecological – Sooo green. And that does not really work. It’s all lies, flattery, just a veil,” Nils admits as if he has made a confession.

A new kind of green wind is blowing on verdant Bali and the luxury builder has become and advocate of green solutions instead of waiting for ‘someone else’ to solve the problems.

So no more non-sustainable luxury villas synonymous with energy waste, carbon-dioxide emissions, not to mention deforestation.

And yet what is fascinating is that the Swede (who has spent his whole adult life abroad and lives on Bali since 7 and 1/2 years back) will still be able to build and sell luxurious things.

“You either chop down the rainforest or you don’t. One cannot be half green. So… the challenge was to build something 100 per cent ecological – but doing it five star,” he continues.

And the magic solution to this? Bamboo – this sustainable and an environmentally friendly quick-growing natural resource!

Building furniture and interior materials out of bamboo is not a new thing in the tropics; for example on Bali itself creative craftsmen conjure up all kinds of bamboo furniture.

Green School the inspiration
But when it comes to high end villas Nils at the eco developer Tropical Homes is most certainly bound to break some new ground, where the fascinating Green School on Bali and its founder, world renowned jewellery designer John Hardy, has played significant roles as inspirers.

When Mr Hardy wanted to give something back to the community he created this school on Bali, described as nothing short of amazing and which gives its students from all corners of the world a relevant holistic and green education. 

The Green School is striving to have the lowest carbon footprint of any international school anywhere, through use of bamboo and rammed earth for its buildings, growing its own food in its gardens, and by generating its own power from the river.

The school – which is a landmark use of the strength, flexibility, and tenacity of this natural product – contains the world’s largest bamboo building which is three floors high, 23 metres, and 60 metres long.

Tropical Homes’ partner for the upcoming Green Village next door, PT Bambu, built the school and they are now jointly combining environmentally conscious design with organic, contemporary architecture.

Built with the strongest and most durable of materials, engineered bamboo and re-claimed timber, this green villa resort will offer the buyers a 100% ECO solution consisting in total comfort, lavish luxury and ecological living.

A 3 bedroom bamboo villa sells at US$ 375,000 as starting price.

“Then some things you can of course not have in bamboo; like toilets, showers and piping. So what we do then is calculating the carbon credit, including it in the price and plant bamboo for that,” says the Nils.

Incredibly strong bamboo lasts long
A foundation has been started where they give bamboo saplings to farmers around Bali. And after only five years they can start harvesting and the developer will be able to buy bamboo from them on the island.

The greatest advantage of bamboo is undoubtedly its enormous growing speed. Bamboo shoots in tropical countries grow up to 30 meters within six months, which directly shows the potential of bamboo to substitute slower growing wood species in terms of annual yield, reports Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands.

“There is nothing more easy to cultivate than bamboo; it grows practically anywhere, and incredibly fast,” says Nils. ”And the thing is also that when bamboo grows, you get sprouts and you don’t harvest everything – the root stays and just keeps on growing and growing and last for up to 90 years.”

Using bamboo as a viable building material might raise some scepticism. But have no doubt – it is 50 times stronger than oak, and just as strong as steel but much lighter, pliable and physically attractive.

Nils shows some various bamboo planks and explains: “A bamboo pole is sliced in thin shreds and then glued with a Swedish non-toxic wood coating product. Then you press it together and you get solid timber and with different thickness. We make planks out of it that are 3 metres long and up to 40 centimetres wide. And now we are building whole houses with this.”

Then there is another type of refined bamboo and Nils displays flooring which looks very similar to oak panelling, made of Strand woven bamboo.

“You can turn it into some ecological or non-ecological, but we have found two producers in China who works with WWF.”

Bamboo also has other eco-friendly features such as converting carbon dioxide into a solid compound, and being an erosion controller and water table preserver. The plant is an eminent means to start up reforestation.

If any drawback it could at this stage be that the refined material is not exactly inexpensive. And a bamboo house cannot be built in cold climates. However, most people live in the tropics and in fact over one billion people in the world live in bamboo houses.

“What we are showing is that you can build beautiful homes that are just as lasting as and perhaps stronger than conventional buildings made out of concrete.”

For Nils this is to be part of small beginnings, and seeing huge untapped potential for bamboo to become a replacement material. On Bali alone he estimates that the equivalent of 10 000 rain forest trees is needed yearly.

“What I do know is that there are soon no rainforests left. That’s our main concern. In ten years from now I believe that there will be no forests left in Indonesia unless we find a material which is cheaper, stronger, more beautiful and popular.”

“What we are hoping for is that if we can show the world that it’s possible to build beautiful and sustainable homes made of bamboo, people will want to buy them. And if they do, the cultivation will grow as a result.”

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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One Comment on “Bamboo Living – An Awakening on Bali”

  1. hello i hoping you can help me as i read your article and I’m visiting Bali i was wondering if there is a possibility to visit the factory of engineered bamboo as solid planks in different strength especially for building furniture ….Windows and Doors
    Im a Designer&Architect living in Ibiza owning a Carpentry Workshop building are own bespoke Windows integrated Architecture Wardrobes and bespoke Furniture …….

    kind regards


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