Renowned architect Simon Velez traveled to India Design ID 2018 to address the guests on the main stage in February. A native of Colombia, a country with the second most-vast biodiversity on earth, likes to focus on natural building materials such as bamboo that he coined ‘green steel’ or ‘vegetal steel’ and wood for his constructions and designs.Simon and his team got fascinated with bamboo as a design component. The fast-growing species of tall grass grow abundantly, fast, and cheaply and provide stunning composite material for open and semi-open spaces that blend the indoors and outdoors. Bamboo grows about 1.2 meters per day or 1 millimeter per minute. It takes about three to five years for the first harvest while wood would take about 25 years. This means that about 10,000 meters of bamboo material can be produced in 20 years.Almost 30 years ago, fundamentalist Simon Velez and his team discovered that giant Colombian guadua bamboo can be injected with liquid cement. The cement mortar is shot into the empty bamboo chambers to make it even stronger. It will become so strong, in fact, that it supports steel plates, bolts, and screws and is a fantastic building material in architecture. The reinforced bamboo that has also been called ‘green steel’ (by Vietnamese architect Vo Trong Nghia) provides efficient and strong connection points for outdoor structures – especially in countries where bamboo grows naturally and in lower-income, emerging, and developing markets.Simon Velez who has built at least 200 buildings in rural areas around the world is very environmentally-conscious. At the India Design ID, he was in good company with leading architects from India and Asia to share his views on sustainability and the movement of bamboo architecture. In a country where bamboo is considered a symbol of friendship, he fell on open ears. He proposed to focus constructions and designs on more sustainable and balanced executions and to find mankind’s way back to ‘the treetops’ where we originally came from (not caves or ‘concrete bunkers’).While not everything is known about the bendable ‘vegetal steel’ bamboo, it has been proven that it is stronger than actual steel. The many uses other than in construction e.g. for furniture proof the usability of the material. Other advantages are that it grows right at the door-step in some of the countries where affordable building material is most needed. Therefore, the transportation costs are lower and the carbon footprint can more easily be kept in check with local sourcing.Simon is not alone in using bamboo as a base material for his architectural designs. Architects Vo Trong Nghia who designed the Vietnamese pavilion at Milan Expo 2015, the China-based Penda architects who proposed a high-rise hotel, and HWCD Associates who created the cube-like Bamboo Courtyard Teahouse on a lake in Yangzhou, China, are among other advocates of the ‘arquitectura vegetariana’ as Simon calls it.
In his work, he doesn’t use plastics, asbestos cement, or drywall. The audience was mesmerized by his presentation and many examples. They were certainly inspired to also focus on the natural building material that might be easily available in their own home countries.