Sustainable bamboo structures built at Queensland music festival

Cave Urban is a Sydney-based design collective that concerns itself with the intersection between art and architecture using bamboo. Their projects are founded on participation between local communities, universities and artists. For the past five years, Cave Urban have been researching and constructing bamboo structures at Queensland’s annual Woodford Folk Festival.

This year, a bamboo treatment plant is also being trialled at the festival site to test the durability of bamboo as a longer-lasting building material. With the help of 50 volunteers, Cave Urban have built two bamboo structures on the festival site named the Shade Parade and the Hammock Hut. The latter project is a prototype for a community construction initiative in Vietnam.

We spoke with co-founder and project director Jed Long while he was on-site building at Woodford about Cave Urban’s work with bamboo and their plans for the future.

Can you explain how the bamboo treatment plant works?

We’ve been working with an organisation in Indonesia called Environmental Bamboo Foundation and they’ve set up an initiative called 1000 Bamboo Villages. One billion people live in bamboo houses [and that’s] something we don’t really have any understanding of in Australia because it’s not really a material that we’re used to working with. What the Environmental Bamboo Foundation is looking to do is they’re setting up regenerative economies in these villages by planting out bamboo.

I think there’s 80 million hectares of degraded land in Indonesia, so there’s all this deforested land and as part of the solution for reforestation they plant out bamboo and then they work with the communities to get them manufacturing bamboo products. In order to make this stuff work, they need to treat the bamboo or else it degrades. It’s the same here in Australia.

We want to be able to treat the bamboo on-site here at Woodford so that we can create these buildings that will last for a long time. At the same time, we also want to tie in and help the Environmental Bamboo Foundation with their research for their communities so we’re actually building a prototype here on-site which … will be directly translated back to Indonesia and to these rural communities where they don’t have the money or the ability to prototype in the same way that we can here.

The Woodford Folk Festival is quite a unique space and we’ve been working with them now for a number of years. We’re trying to change the way that we create things here so that we’re engaging with the wider community globally. We’re building all these different projects and the bamboo treatment is the heart of all that. It’s an opportunity for us to set up a system where we’re closing the loop on the site here.

The system is really great because it runs off all of the organic waste on the site. There’s thousands of trees here and they’re dropping branches all the time. We can collect up all those branches and we burnt [them]. It’s not like we’re burning a fire where we’re polluting because the actual carbon is being captured in soap.

…We can take that solution once we’ve used it a few times to treat the bamboo and we mix it with all of the waste oil on the site. From all the deep fryers from all the stores, we take that oil and mix it with the solution and we create a varnish which we can then paint on all of the structures to protect them.

What inspired the design of the Shade Parade and Hammock Hut?

It gets very hot up here in summer, so we want to be able to shade large sections [and] get the sun off everybody. Obviously, that’s quite a challenge because we need to have garbage trucks and everything [else] able to drive through. What we’ve done is we’ve created this elevated shade structure that’s about six and a half metres off the ground, so it’s really high. It spans 10 metres. We didn’t want it to be this large, monolithic form so we’ve been playing with that idea of the wave and the curve. Our practice is that a lot of what we do evolves on-site.

[The Hammock Hut] is actually tying into a project we’re doing in Vietnam. We’re working with a community in the Central Highlands and they want a church but they haven’t really worked with bamboo in this way before. We’re trying to design a structure that can be built by unskilled labour. We’re making all of this with volunteers and a few of our guys. It’s a prototype for them when we go to Vietnam and build that church for them. We have students from the University of Tasmania who are documenting the whole process and creating building manuals and drawings so that we can make all the mistakes here.

Woodford is a safe space for us to experiment and to push the envelope. Once we’ve done that, … we can then apply it to other countries where we don’t necessarily have the same opportunity.

When will you be constructing in Vietnam?

We’re building [at Woodford] and then we’re going over to Vietnam in January with a group of 15 students [to] … consult with the community. In June, we’re hoping to build the whole thing. We’ll take another group of maybe 20 students across to work with the community and build it all.

How did Cave Urban come to be involved with the Woodford Folk Festival?

We actually started off as a family here and we could come to the festival. We saw an opportunity to work with Woodford … because we wanted to learn and develop an understanding of working with bamboo.

Woodford became a medium where we could bring international artists to come create big structures and collaborate and have a cross-cultural exchange. In the last five years, we’ve continued to build different structures around the site. Some of them are now gone, some of them remain.

We’ve been doing experimental structures and we get experts in from around the world. Now we’re trying to formalise that a little bit because it has been such an organic process. Now … we’re working with universities, getting course credits for students to come and work up here. [We’re] building more permanent buildings that are always experimental and pushing the boundaries.

[We’re] trying always to keep it as closed-loop as possible and utilise materials that we can harvest ourselves. We cut down all this bamboo ourselves and it means we can select what we want to use and we’ve barely used any fixings with it – it’s just wire or weaving it all together. The thing that’s really important for us is that [we don’t have] a bunch of skilled builders doing this. Anybody can come and help us.

We create our own community and we’re empowering everybody through that build process. They see the way they’ve all worked together and then suddenly as a result there’s this giant structure. The Hammock Hut is 20 odd metres long and 10 metres high and it’s going to be built [by] people who have just given their time freely to come up here for three weeks and help out.

The Woodford Folk Festival runs from 27 December until 1 January 2018.

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