In this 5th ThinkBamboo Podcast, French architect and carpenter Oscar Pont recounts his journey of exploring bamboo as a sustainable material. He shares his experiences of cultivating and experimenting with bamboo on his Brazilian land. Check out his publications (Web / IG). Oscar explains that his architecture background was rooted in traditional European building materials such as concrete, steel, and stone. Interestingly it wasn’t until he began traveling in Asia that he saw the potential of bamboo as a building material.
Upon his return to Brazil, Oscar embarked on a quest to find adventurous clients interested in using bamboo for construction. However, he encountered difficulties in locating a bamboo supplier within the country. The only available bamboo type was primarily used for cellulose production.
Video Interview Summary Quick-Links:
[00:06] Oscar, a French architect & carpenter living in Brazil
[05:29] Goal to expand bamboo farming in Brazil & help farmers
[10:12] Promoting bamboo cultivation and construction
[14:31] Collaboration is key for successful bamboo projects
[19:00] Bamboo is a sustainable and resilient material for construction
[23:23] Bamboo has potential for economy and sustainability
[27:27] Protecting natural materials is crucial for durability
[31:44] Waste is nothing more than a unused resource
Learning & Growing Bamboo From Scratch
Rather than give up on his vision, the french architect decided to learn how to grow bamboo himself. He set out to learn about plantation techniques and the benefits of mixing different crops together to create better soil. He also studied the different varieties of bamboo and their various uses in building projects.
Oscar discovered that the tropical crops, cacao and coffee, in Brazil were well-suited to the shade provided by bamboo, making it an ideal complement to these crops. He also learned about the importance of biodiversity in bamboo planting, and went on a search for different varieties of bamboo seedlings to add to his plantation.
Growing Giant Bamboo From Seedlings
During his local research, the French expat uncovered a Japanese community in Brazil who introduced him to seedlings of Dendrocalamus asper, also known as Giant Bamboo. He acquired 400 seedlings from a local farmer and diversified his plantation by purchasing seeds of various bamboo varieties.
During the interview, Oscar shared his recent project of growing seedlings, which yielded some successful results. However, an experiment with bamboo stacks didn’t go as planned. Despite efforts, only two seedlings out of 120 survived. Oscar acknowledged that not all experiments guarantee success, emphasizing the value of learning from failures. Though uncertain about this project’s outcome, he maintained a curious and open mindset, believing that failures offer opportunities for growth and improvement.
According to Oscar Pont, bamboo’s strength and flexibility make it suitable for various projects. From small decorative pieces to entire buildings, bamboo excels. Additionally, its sustainability shines through rapid growth and renewability. Moreover, bamboo holds cultural significance worldwide. Oscar recounted discovering a bamboo type in Colombia used by indigenous people to craft traditional musical instruments.
One major misconception regarding bamboo is its classification as a tree, whereas it is actually a type of grass. This misconception caused significant issues, as governments treated bamboo akin to trees, hindering investment and support for the bamboo industry. However, with growing awareness of bamboo’s benefits, this perception is gradually shifting.
Oscar’s journey with bamboo began when he started to research sustainable building materials for his architecture projects. He quickly became interested in bamboo due to its strength, flexibility, and fast-growing nature.
Oscar experimenting with transplanting Dencrocalmaus asper (giant bamboo)
He started experimenting with growing bamboo on his Brazilian land, despite local skepticism. Transition: However, the locals did not understand his decision to plant bamboo instead of burning it.
Over time, Oscar learned much about growing and utilizing bamboo. He faced challenges like ant invasions, crop theft, and finding investors in Brazil. Transition: Nevertheless, he remains dedicated to his vision of bamboo as a sustainable building material, constantly experimenting and learning.
According to Oscar, making things with bamboo is harder than talking about it because it requires taking action and overcoming unexpected challenges. Transition: Nonetheless, this valuable learning experience helps dispel misconceptions about bamboo.
Using bamboo in construction presents a challenge due to the varying quality of the material. Oscar faces difficulties satisfying clients’ requests for bamboo structures as ensuring the purchased bamboo’s quality proves challenging. Quality is impacted by transportation, treatment, and harvesting, necessitating control over the entire production chain to ensure consistent quality.
Uniqueness of every Bamboo
Being an organic material, bamboo exhibits inherent variability, posing challenges to those seeking uniformity in construction. Nonetheless, this variability contributes to the aesthetic allure and uniqueness of bamboo. Durability presents another obstacle, as European expectations demand long-lasting structures, while Asians are accustomed to periodic replacements.
Furthermore, protecting bamboo from the elements proves vital for its longevity. Even flawless construction will falter if bamboo is left exposed to the sun, water, and humidity. Consequently, long-term protection measures must be considered, despite the difficulty, to ensure the endurance of bamboo structures.
Bamboo and Agriculture
Furthermore, bamboo finds utility beyond construction, as it can be incorporated into polycultures for agriculture. Oscar has conducted experiments, intercropping bamboo with coffee, cacao, banana, and tapioca. Nevertheless, bamboo may create excessive shade, necessitating the cultivation of shade-tolerant crops. In Asia, bamboo frequently grows alongside rice fields, offering moderate shade without overpowering it.