The project site on the mountain overlooking the Great Wall of China was rather wild than sophisticated. When I first stood on this site, I envisioned a small one-story house surrounding a quite courtyard much like the vernacular style of Chinese houses.
On the way back from the site, I visited the town outside of Beijing where a number of material suppliers array their shops, in the hope of finding building materials for the project that are specific to China. Perhaps because hardly any wood structures are used for construction in China today, available lumber types were limited, and I could not even find any structural plywood. What caught my eyes instead was a kind of plywood in the color of blood. By having a closer look, I discovered that it was a lamination of thin strips of bamboo woven into sheets. I was told that this bamboo plywood was used typically for concrete framework. If bamboo could be made into plywood, I though, then it would be possible to laminate strips of bamboo into building lumber.
Until then, I had not been much interested in bamboo, which has been used for many years in Asia and South America as building material. The reason was that no architect has succeeded in using bamboo as primary building structure in contemporary architecture, other than a Columbian architect Simon Velez who has poured concrete inside of bamboo tubes to make structural element. It is simply because the nature of the material - its tendency to split when it is dry, and its random sizes and thickness, makes it difficult for the bamboo to be used structurally. But by laminating the material with certain type of glue under controlled environment, stable building material can be fabricated out of bamboo strips. With the help from a local bamboo factory, we have made a sample of laminated bamboo lumber and operated boiling and bending tests accordingly to the set standard by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan. The result of these tests showed that bamboo material had the structural strength between steel and timbers.
Other fact to consider into design was that the construction administration
of the project would be handled by the client themselves due to the project’s
remote site and its limited budget. To minimize the weight on construction
administration, I decided to make my “furniture house” system which is
a pre-fabricated modularized building system I have been developing for
some years, out of the bamboo laminated lumber. The laminated bamboo was
used for the unit framing system and beams as well as interior and exterior
The concept was wonderful. In reality however, we had no luck of finding cooperative material supplier and furniture maker with skills and capabilities, and it was impossible to fabricate well-crafted furniture units under reasonable cost. Moreover, with the communication problems throughout the entire project, the construction was not carried out as specified at many locations, and the completion was delayed tremendously. Still as of today, the entrance gate has not been installed as I have designed, and the water in the courtyard has not been filled as intended.
This project had many problems I did not anticipate, however, it was an honorable experience to be a part of exploring the great potential of China with our outstandingly growing client, Redstone Industrie. It was also a wonderful opportunity to begin the development of laminated bamboo, which I believe to have great prospect.