Spontaneity in Building

The process of constructing a bamboo building as part of this  team  is a beautiful process. We begin with a survey of the rocks, trees and terrain of the area where we would like to build. It is a great contribution to our creative process that the process of planning applications and council is very liberating. There are acts in favour of any sort of activity that might add to the prosperity of rural areas, and so post-completion, as-built planning applications are perfectly acceptable. Therefore, after we have built a scaled model of an idea, which might have evolved through several renditions over a few weeks, we all meet on site and imagine the process.

Communication of the design from model into reality is mostly verbal. The concept of a scaled ruler is quite baffling to most of our team members. We have found it helpful to introduce a scaled person or tree into a model to bring an interpretation of what we are building into the lives of all involved. To assist with building curved beams, we might draw a few diagrams with annotated dimensions, offsets and points of intersection. The question is usually whether we can build the primary structure before the model, made from untreated bamboo sticks and kept in hot and humid conditions, falls into decay.

The build usually begins from the roof down. This might feel a little counter-intuitive, but we see our model as indicative of the gesture, so giving ourselves space to tweak the design during construction is important. Scaffolding has a critical role and a few team members have very strong scaffold intuition. Shortly after we have decided where the roof’s curved beams should be positioned in the air, a sturdy scaffolding structure will be holding up a primary roof structure. At this point it can be difficult to tell what is temporary and what we are aiming to support with columns. Using string that we can adjust easily, we connect points of this roof structure with rocks below and begin the column building process. Tying and dowelling are another big process, both carving dowels from bamboo and tying beautiful knots during a phase which is likely to be sunny for a while, so that ties don’t suffer from rot before the roof is finished.

A space for spontaneity is critical in our building processes. When standing amidst the physical structure, the body senses space in a lively way that is quite different from looking at or feeling the model. New ideas, realisations or insights emerge. These may relate to: the structural dynamic, maybe adding, aligning or grouping particular columns; heights, resulting in adjusted earth levels or rearranging the layout; spatial qualities, where an unassuming area becomes prominent; and ceiling or roof surfaces, where the patterns and textures are imagined.

It has become intentional for us to be open to those ‘aha’ moments and roll with where they might be taking us. Sometimes this can be a challenge, depending what has already been set in motion and how much the insight is shared, but it has resulted in some beautifully unexpected outcomes:

  • When building the  kitchen  , we had created a raised central platform where we had imagined the culinary activities taking place. Once the platform was in place and we had sculpted the landscape around it, it became clear than placing fridges on top of this centrally raised platform would significantly limit the open quality that was emerging throughout. Swapping the position of these activities with those of dining meant that fridges and equipment could be tucked away under the platform where the ground sloped away and beneath the central roof light people could come together to eat.

  • In the  bathroom  , the boulder which supports the structure now emerges through the bamboo floor. During the construction phase we realised that lowering the platform and shaping it around the rock creating a dynamic between the rooted earthly forces and the lighter bamboo canopy above, with rainforest plants all around as walls.

  • The design for the  Chamber of Wonder  experienced a flip between solid and void. Initially, we had designed a central platform between two lower earth floors, as a stage-like or gathering space lifted up towards the apex of the reciprocal roof. The polarity of tall and cozy spaces was heightened when we re-imagined this relationship and instead build a space almost like a mini amphitheatre in the centre and a raised platform either side, held by the roof’s lower perimeter.

  • A language of column clusters emerged during the kitchen construction where we realised it was necessary to double the number of columns. By introducing columns angling inwards, opposing those that we had already built, a V-shaped space was revealed. These spaces became the sites of raised platforms, shelving and benches. This furthered our intentions to build the furniture as part of the structure and became design considerations in future buildings.

It is true that the building isn’t finished when construction is complete because the process of living in the building always brings changes. Even when we think we are getting good at predicting opportunities amongst the structure for little spatial moments, others always surprise us during the building or living process. We often find ourselves adding a little table in over here, or a light in over there, months after the building work is done. The more we build, the more our design intuition and language develops, the more laughter can be heard on site amidst the bird song and rock drilling, and the more we want to continue developing this beautiful process.

Dwelling in Symbiosis