by Yang Dingdu
BEIJING, April 29 (Xinhua) -- What can be made out of bamboos? Chairs, desks, flutes or even fashionable handbags? The "Bamboo Eye" pavilion shows how the plant can be turned into magnificent buildings and make a difference to people's lives at the Beijing International Horticultural Exhibition.
Walking into the "Bamboo Eye" pavilion, visitors can't help marveling at the world of bamboos. Looking up, they will see nine bamboo arches supporting the huge roof of the 1,600-square-meter pavilion. The building's main structure has more than 5,000 bamboo poles, which are processed to last 30 years.
The pavilion is sponsored by the International Bamboo and Ratan Organization (INBAR), which believes bamboos can help alleviate poverty, promote sustainable development and change lives, especially in warm and humid regions where the plant is readily available.
BAMBOO CAN CHANGE LIVES
The pavilion is made possible with years of experience and experimentation by architects, engineers, researchers and construction workers. Shao Changzhuan, who led the structural designing, started his career with bamboos during a trip to southwest China's Yunnan Province a decade ago. In those villages, he saw children struggling to maintain balance as they crossed the river on a few haphazardly laid bamboos.
The children were at the risk of drowning every time they crossed the river on their way to school. "How can I help as an engineer?" Shao asked himself. Since then, he has been working with universities and charity funds to build sturdy bridges and houses with bamboos in rural areas across China.
Bamboos are easily accessible in many parts of the world. For centuries, people used them to make smaller items like furniture and flutes. But not everyone knows how to turn them into bridges and houses. Shao designed a simple way of constructing with bamboos and is planning to publish cartoon books to illustrate the process.
"I want to make it so easy that uneducated and inexperienced farmers and villagers can build with bamboos," he said.
The "Bamboo Eye" pavilion is a highlight of Shao's philosophy. The bamboo poles and their installation are designed with such consistency that construction workers can do their work with minimum coaching. Construction of the pavilion began last November and concluded weeks before the expo opened on April 28. "It was quite a short period of time for such a big project, especially given the month-long Spring Festival vacation and the harsh snowy winter."
Shao hoped the process can be simple and fast as he envisions people in remote disaster-stricken areas using the bamboos around them to build shelters and hospitals.
"Just imagine. This pavilion could have been a hospital in a quake zone," Shao said.
MORE BAMBOO BUILDINGS
While Shao's passion in bamboos lies in helping the poor, Italian architect Mauricio Cardenas Laverde, designer of the pavilion, loves using the plant for its environmental benefits.
Growing up in his grandfather's farm in Colombia, Laverde enjoyed playing in the woods, building little huts with whatever he could find as a child. While starting his own studio in 2004, Laverde tried his hand with various building materials and found bamboo one of his favorites.
"We have to change the way we think about construction. Whatever the limitations of alternative building materials such as bamboo are, they can't be worse than the dangers posed by continuing with the status quo of environmentally damaging construction," Laverde said.
The "Bamboo Eye" pavilion is the latest of many of Laverde's works involving bamboos, which also include an energy-saving house made of bamboo in east China's Zhejiang Province.
Bamboo buildings do not last as long as those made of steel and concrete. But Laverde sees that as an opportunity to see architecture in a different light.
"Concrete buildings can last for hundreds of years, but should they?" Laverde said, adding that most buildings are either abandoned or destroyed within decades of years.
"If we had used natural building materials in cities and changed our mindset, then it would be easy to rebuild every few decades without the huge cost of today," he said.
For Laverde, "using carbon intensive materials in construction is easy -- but the challenge of working with natural materials instead is worth it."