Caris Avendaño Cruz is a Filipina writer and author of MARIKIT WEARS THE MAP TO THE ENGKANTOS, a Middle Grade fantasy book that features an all-Filipino cast and local folklore, debuting in FSG BYR Macmillan, Fall 2022.
It’s a renowned landscaping favorite: tall, slender poles shoot up in the sky with a cluster of thin, blade-like leaves that sway in the wind. As an indoor plant, bamboo requires little upkeep, with no to minimal fertilizer and water. In fact, this perennial plant can flourish on its own, independently sowing its culms that rapidly regenerate into running clusters—some, even aggressively. When put together, bamboo clusters brings a zen-like charm to a garden, transporting one to the peaceful Orient where the species are said to have originated. But, aside from its serene aesthetics, the bamboo tree has many uses. Many companies are now looking past its Asian-inspired allure into many of its hidden potentials. Among them is Greenington, an award-winning furniture company from Kent, WA.
Launched in 2004, Greenington has turned its gaze from common wood and into the bamboo—a much more sustainable option. Many studies back this claim. With stalks growing three to four meters per day, bamboo is one of the planet’s fastest-growing plants, easily reaching maturity within 5 years without the need for fertilizers or much water. Scientific American discloses that bamboo growth is so rapid, it can produce 20 times more timber compared to other tree species in the same area. And, due to its web of root system, its groves regenerate without the need for replanting.
Bamboo’s growth speed is just one of its many benefits; this grass family is carbon-dioxide neutral, emitting 35% more oxygen than regular trees of similar size. Its strength property is also astounding; it ranks higher than most hardwoods and possesses greater tensile strength than steel. Bamboo also withstands compression better than concrete. Surprisingly, bamboo’s strength is in its ability to bend.
Breathing design into bamboo
Greenington, who harvests its bamboo from managed forests, thrives with one motto: “Go with bamboo, live with sustainability.” it dedicates itself to one bamboo family—the Moso bamboo, a species native to East Asian countries and is known for its tortoise-shell color. This blue-green variety, which towers up to 70 feet in its maturity, grows in temperate atmospheres and independently clumps on its own. Unlike its decorative counterparts, the Moso family produces long, dense fibers that showcase hardness, stability, and strength. It is, remarkably, 20% harder than oak.
The company chooses prime, 5-year old Moso bamboo before it is treated and then kiln-dried to achieve a specific moisture content. Not even the sawdust is left; Greenington uses 100% of the bamboo material, creating fine strands that are woven together before it is soaked in a special adhesive. The mixture is then pressed in a hydraulic mold. This four-story high machine heats and compresses the bamboo material into dense panels; this process also gives the material its unique grains and tones.
The result: a gorgeous slab that exudes with a warm, honey-like hue, a perfect color for the modern living and dining set. A moodier sable finish comes with hints of reddish-brown, offering the same charm of a dark lacquered wood. Exotic versions, whose entire make is 100% stronger than red oak, can come with more contemporary finishes. Mocha and Black Walnut options are made to match the edgier, modern aesthetics, while the Tiger finish douses the material with vibrant blonde color.
Since its inception, Greenington has been an advocate of sustainably smart furniture paired with clean aesthetics. Over the years, it has won two IDA International Design awards; gold for Sustainable Living, and silver in Design for Society. In 2019, it has received the Global Goodness Award.
An economical choice rooted in Asia
But using bamboo for home and living is not exactly new. In Southeast Asia, bamboo has long been an integral part of the architecture. Nipa huts, a common living space in the more tropical regions, make use of raw bamboo as floors and walls, thanks to its durability and flexibility. Filipinos extend their modest homes with long, protruding poles on each four sides, giving each hut the capability to be transferred from one place to another. The Japanese manipulated bamboo to create fences, water ornaments, and as foundations for their grand pavilions.
“Chinoiserie,” was a design language once popular in Europe. It is the 17th-century fetish of the Far East, where bamboo has been a staple in many drawn-on artworks, commonly seen in textiles, wallpaper, and, naturally, china. But the actual use of the material was only made popular in the 19th century, where the Brits imported their elaborate, leafy poles from Japan. Furniture from bamboo was inexpensive and was largely promoted as “exotic.” In many parts of Asia, furniture from bamboo, which was readily available and easily harvested, is considered cheap and unfashionable. But the discovery of its green potential now gives bamboo a new meaning.
Take for example Ibuku, a team of Indonesian architects and designers specializing in bamboo to build luxurious residential and commercial spaces. Elora Hardy, whose father had built Bali’s Green Village, started this project, bringing in her advocacy for sustainability and her design experience from Donna Karan. Since 2010, Hardy has built 50 decadent bamboo structures around Bali, all of which make use of the material’s bendability and tensile strength, resulting in arresting masterpieces that churn one’s awe in nature’s miraculous gifts. The eco-resort Bambu Indah was among the newest recipients of this organic architecture: one of which is the Moon House, which gloriously opens the entirely wooden home out into the beauty of a lush garden while being lodged with luxurious amenities.
In Phnom Penh, Atelier Cole takes a more empathic route with the Building Trust International, which engages Cambodian talent in creating designs with social impact. Bamboo, alongside rattan, were given the spotlight in the architecture, producing traditional shapes and natural ventilation in each project. Just a hop away from Cambodia, Thailand takes pride in Chiang Mai’s Panyaden Bamboo Sports Hall—a magnificent interweaving of bamboo trusses, all encased in a vaulted hall that glimmers with natural light and fresh air.
The west is now seeing the light of this sustainable resource. Amsterdam-based Jair Straschnow’s collection Grassworks snagged an award from the UK Design Museum Furniture. Bringing the emphasis on assembly, simple furniture—chairs, tables, and bookshelves, including a convertible lounge—are joined without any need for screws, or even glue. Italian manufacturer Alessi joined hands with the Campana brothers for an outdoor furniture collection made entirely of bamboo, intelligently made with a unique optical rhythm thanks to the large poles thrust into the ground. Alvar Aalto’s Bambu collection, made under the helm of Tom Dixon, is a marvelously minimal dining set made of bamboo strips, highlighting the material’s pure texture and stunning curves.
There are more than 1,000 bamboo species all over the world, varying from small annuals to large tinders, each with their own natural beauty and mechanical properties. With a swift growth cycle, one can even watch a bamboo tree grow with bare eyes, inching towards many possibilities with its tall, slender poles. From furniture to architecture, to homewear, lighting and smaller ornaments, objects designed from bamboo possess the natural beauty of wood, strength akin to steel, and sustainability unmatched by any other resource on the planet. With its stalks continually thriving in temperate regions, it is about time for designers to turn their heads towards this sustainable material and explore the many benefits of utilizing this planet’s tensile gift.
Find the complete Greenington collection, available at Molecule here.