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Bali Green School Designed with Bamboo

Credits: ©2010 Bali Green School

The Green School in Bali, Indonesia, strives to be as energy independent as possible while constructing green buildings using 99 percent natural materials – mainly bamboo, grass and mud – for its buildings that are cooled naturally. It implemented an experiment in micro-hydro power generation, using a nine-meter vortex generator installed in the river. In addition, it produces methane from cow manure for fueling stoves, along with a bamboo sawdust hot water and cooking system, installed solar panels, and developed a gasification unit that will use rice husks and other organic materials to produce electricity. And there’s a lot of organic material - the campus is blanketed by an organic permaculture system designed by international and local experts. Students engage in farming, with the School’s gardens growing rice, fruits and vegetables, and crops such as fruits, vegetables, palm sugar and chocolate are sold at the school’s Green Warung that students at the School help to manage. Students are involved in growing and maintaining an edible maze, producing coconut oil from the campus trees, harvesting honey, and breeding fish in campus aquaculture ponds. Our composting systems are already in place and will continue to develop as more and more students, teachers, and staff move to the land. This campus consists of several structures that include classrooms, a gymnasium, conference rooms, faculty housing, offices, a kitchen, cafes and a bathroom. Located in Badung, Bali, the project is 7542 square meters. Green School was named a finalist in the 2010 Aga Khan Awards for Architecture (AKAA), which honors projects that exhibit architectural excellence as well as improve people’s overall quality of life.


Bali Green School Heart

The Heart of School at Bali's Green School provides a large gathering space made of bamboo for this environmental school in Indonesia. ©2010 Green School

Bali Green School Ode to Bamboo
By Esther Au Yong , Social Entrepreneurship Forum

FAMED Canadian jeweller John Hardy is not a man who does things in half-measures.

When he had a dream to teach children how to live sustainably, he not only built Green School Bali – arguably the first of its kind in the world, offering a holistic education of traditional math and science subjects paired with a green curriculum and a creative arts programme – he used what he believes is the most eco-friendly and sustainable building material on Earth: bamboo.

In Hardy’s case, this penchant and belief in bamboo has led him and his wife, Cynthia, to launch the Meranggi Foundation to encourage farmers to plant bamboo, create PT Bambu as a design hotbed and production facility for bamboo buildings and furniture, and open Bambu Indah, a hotel based on sustainability.

Along the way, he built what could possibly be the world’s largest bamboo building, the Heart of School, a grand, imposing, three-storey structure, located within Green School Bali.

Located 20 minutes North of Denpasar and 15 minutes South of Ubud,

Green School’s eight-hectare campus sits among lush vegetation, divided by the Ayung River. It looks more like a serene, though rustic, holiday resort than a school.

The school’s tagline is “Equipping Children For 2025”. By that, the Hardys want, besides teaching the standard International Baccalaureate (IB) and International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) syllabus, to inculcate in their students the love of learning.

The Green Studies programme includes topics like carbon footprint analysis, water studies and even, organic farming and gardening. Within the Creative Arts and physical education programmes, students delve into yoga and batik painting using natural dyes made from vegetation on site, and martial arts, with the Balinese traditional art of Mepantingan being an important component.

Students, aged between three and 15, learn by doing, with each child tending to their very own vegetable patch.

And as part of that commitment to greening the environment, Green School is built entirely out of bamboo – even its blackboards, desks, chairs and lamps.

Bamboo is the latest darling of eco-conscious architects, designers and manufacturers all over the world. The demand worldwide is high for bamboo for clothing, flooring, furniture and as building material.

Bamboo’s environmental benefits arise largely out of its ability to grow and spread quickly – in some cases, one meter a day – without the need for fertilizers, pesticides or much water.

A bamboo grove also releases some 35 per cent more oxygen into the air than a similar-sized stand of trees. One hectare of bamboo can sequester up to 12 tons of carbon a year.

Bamboo also reaches structural maturity in four to five years and produces a crop each year (compared to 30 to 50 years for most tropical hardwood trees), helping to improve soil conditions and prevent erosion along the way. Bamboo is so fast-growing that it can yield 20 times more timber than trees on the same area.

For the Hardys, bamboo was chosen not because there was lack of a better material – in current times, that is. It was chosen with an eye to the future.

John said, in an email interview: “Green School chose bamboo in the spirit of plenty. With rapidly escalating world cement prices, not to mention the sheer amount of fossil fuel that cement consumes, we must look to alternative building materials.

The world needs it. We have run out of cheap natural resources. Bamboo is a renewable resource, which sequesters carbon into the bargain.”

Some cement was used, however. While most of the cement is primarily underground, a small percentage of the classroom floors are made from cement, but “in general we want Green School to be really green, which means less cement”.

In part, they have also chosen bamboo for the children.

“Frankly, it is hard to talk to students about sustainability while they are using the last piece of rainforest for their chair and their table. It is the painful truth that they are going to have to stretch to get enough rain forest timber to build their homes.

“Bamboo is available and plenty, and when it is treated with borax salt, it is rendered immune to the bugs that like to eat it, so it becomes a permanent material.

“Every student at Green School will have an opportunity to plant his or her own bamboo and, eventually, four to five years down the line, will have a chance to harvest, treat and build something with that bamboo,” he added.

John has certainly created beautiful structures with bamboo.

Not only do they blend in seamlessly with the environment – the local craftsmen and their time-honoured traditional building techniques no doubt played a big part in this – the Green School buildings are engineering marvels in their own right.

Take the school’s administrative centre, the Heart of School.

Heart of School, built at a cost of US$225,000, is a majestic, three-storey building containing three interconnecting spirals. Towering over 20 meters tall, it enjoys over 2,000 sq m of floor space. Building the structure – construction started in late 2008, has taken 2,630 bamboo poles and 10,000 strips of alang-alang roofing. It houses the school library, IT laboratory, meeting rooms, exhibition spaces and offices.

John’s passion and belief in bamboo doesn’t just end with the school and its children.

Through the Meranggi Foundation, he encourages local Balinese farmers to grow bamboo. The Foundation works with farmers across Bali by providing seedlings of commercially viable bamboo to participating farmers free of charge.

The Foundation maintains detailed planting records, monitor bamboo growth rates and the associated carbon capture, and secures markets for future bamboo trade.

It has now already planted 15,000 seedlings with farmers across Bali. It is estimated that in seven years, that will yield 1,500,000 poles – enough to “grow” 150 new buildings every year.

However, the journey is just beginning for the Meranggi Foundation.

In an interview with Green School student for the school’s student newsletter, Chris Majors, the bamboo nursery’s manager, shared that some farmers they approach “don’t want any involvement in what we’re doing, and some want hundreds of plants right away… what we’ve learned is not to do hard sells”.

“Work with farmers who are willing and will help spread the bamboo word,” he added.

“A change in perspective will take more than a few months… The potential of bamboo has not yet been embraced fully by the Balinese. It will be quite a while before farmers come to us after the first harvests.”

Such is the reality of the task at hand for the Foundation.

But ever the epitome of someone who lives the life he believes in, John has this advice:

“If you need a lot of timber in the future, don’t look for wood, look for bamboo.

“It fixes a huge amount of carbon in the soil and this is a good solution in the world of ever escalating problems. It is a rapid solution to some of the problems that are facing us.

“Plant bamboo.”

Relevant books:
Grow Your Own House
Building with Bamboo: A Handbook


Bali Green School by Documentarian Sven Gelin

Bali Green School (Indonesia)