Indonesia is prone to earthquakes, so concrete buildings are not suited to the unstable environment, according to Eugenius Pradipto , a lecturer and researcher at Gajah Mada University (UGM), Yogyakarta, who is known as a bamboo structure specialist.
“There is no awareness for our unstable earth and the fact about the concrete buildings not being suited hasn’t been widely communicated yet. Concrete structures are actually incompatible with our traditional buildings and land. We should imitate Japan, which responds and adapts to its environment settings,” said Pradipto, who earned his doctorate in architecture from Stuttgart University, Germany, in 1999.
Concrete, wood and bamboo, in his view, have their respective advantages and drawbacks. However, the architect advocating environment-oriented buildings since 1986 affirmed that Indonesia should appropriately turn to wooden or bamboo buildings.
Concrete structures, weighing four times as much as wooden or bamboo buildings, pose a greater risk and endanger their occupants during earth tremors.
“With bamboo or wood, buildings will be lighter and more pliant, capable of absorbing tremors. Concrete should only be used for their main frames while wood or bamboo will suffice the rest,” said Pak Dip, as the man born in Gunung Kidul Yogyakarta on Oct. 29, 1956 is commonly called.
Pradipto, who has been striving to synchronize natural conditions with building designs, acknowledged the main weakness of wood and bamboo, which are vulnerable to termites, particularly when humidity is high.
“Termites do not need to be a threat; we should apply the right technology to prevent the environment from getting damp, which invites the insects. In this case we can learn from the community in Kampung Naga, a village in West Java. They have maintained very high construction technique through generations,” noted Pradipto, who visited the village in 1986-1987 and 1998 for this purpose.
He learned that building wooden or bamboo houses should have some knowledge of local natural circumstances and the behavior of all living beings so as to maintain their survival. In Kampung Naga, people put their trash cans at distant places.
“It’s because rubbish is consumed by termites. As they’re already fed, they won’t eat our buildings so there’s no need to cut off their food chain. Let all beings lead their natural lives,” indicated Pradipto, who studied in Germany from 1989 to 1999.
The walls of Kampung Naga houses are made from woven bamboo panels, which they claim are meant to enable them to find out whether their fireplaces are still burning or not.
“In fact, the buildings give an example of very high construction techniques based on thermodynamics, by which the smoke containing carbon dioxide will move out by permeating through the woven walls, thus eliminating dampness and getting rid of termites,” the 57-year-old explained with a smile of admiration.
“The pliability of bamboo almost matches that of steel, and bamboo lasts for over 50 years. If we don’t use bamboo and wood for housing construction, be prepared to see other countries patenting their bamboo buildings,” he warned.
“Good buildings should be rooted in culture, tradition, social and environment backgrounds and local wisdom. The price of buildings depends on the materials used, while bamboo and wood offered by nature are acceptable for construction as long as we can utilize them properly,” he pointed out.
The recipient of the lecturers’ achievement award in 2008 convincingly assured the possibility of erecting environment-friendly wooden or bamboo office buildings up to the fifth floor. He described the government as too pragmatic to consider this potential so that the use of wood is feared to be ecologically harmful.
“It never harms the ecology as wooden buildings last longer than the age of relevant trees. I also feel very much concerned to notice that bamboo or wooden buildings are always labeled as rough-and-ready structures. Such a government image makes these buildings very far from being the nation’s architectural vision,” he lamented.
The winner of the 2010 Best Patent Work Award and manager of the UGM Wooden Building Design Studio since 2003 had the opportunity to prove the great potential of bamboo and wood when he handled the building of a settlement for Merapi volcanic eruption refugees on a plot of 1,500 square meters in Sudimoro, Muntilan, Magelang (Central Java) in early 2011 at a cost of Rp 150 million (US$13,350).
However, the father of three and husband of AR. Laksmi Lastari was disappointed to find that, despite the strong and habitable wooden and bamboo settlement he constructed, the local government later built houses with mass-produced bricks as non-permanent accommodation, followed by refugees’ movement to the new complex.
Yet, chairman of Yogyakarta’s Pule Hijau Tree Protection Community has never given up his attempts since the 1980s, when he built vendor zones in Salatiga (Central Java) in 1984, and a migrants’ settlement in Central Kalimantan in 1985-1986, all using wood and bamboo.
After constructing the Yogyakarta Tembi Cultural House in 2004, he built the monumental Catholic Santo Yakobus Klodran bamboo church in Bantul Yogyakarta in 2006, with a roof span of over 18 meters and building area of 225 square meters, using no pillars.
“This is the first bamboo church of its kind in Indonesia, perhaps even in the world, costing only
Rp 90 million and taking four months to finish. This building led me to Japan, Korea and Austria, besides the first prize for Appropriate Technology Construction from the Public Works Ministry in 2008 and the world architect listing in Britain,” he added.
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