Bamboo – a sustainable solution to Lombok’s housing needs

Bamboo structure unaffected by earthquake

Bamboo structure unaffected by earthquake


Marcin Dawydzik

Marcin Dawydzik

Structural Engineer
T: +44 7929 363 685

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Applying latest digital design capabilities to naturally abundant bamboo, Ramboll is partnering with local NGO Grenzeloos Milieu and University College London (UCL) to design replicable bamboo homes for use on the earthquake prone island of Lombok and beyond.

An island in crisis

In 2018, Lombok was struck by several earthquakes measuring up to magnitude 7. These events had a catastrophic effect on local communities, leaving over 500 dead, 129,000 damaged houses and 445,000 people homeless. The disaster could have been even worse had the island not been shaken by pre-shocks sending inhabitants out of their concrete buildings before the main quake struck. 

Following the devastation, Els Houttave, founder of the Lombok based charity Grenzeloos Milieu was determined to do all she could to prevent history repeating itself. Concerned that buildings in this seismic region were not capable of withstanding earthquakes due to the techniques and materials used, she wanted a sustainable and resilient solution. She reached out to her old friend Xavier Echegaray, now a bridge engineer at Ramboll. He used Ramboll’s ‘Making a Difference Network’, to engage fellow engineers, and just weeks after the quake, the Ramboll Foundation funded structural engineer Marcin Dawydzik on a fact-finding mission to Lombok. What he saw had a profound effect. 

“Villages were flattened with bricks and rubble scattered all around, in many cases the building foundations were all that remained. This was not an unusually powerful earthquake for the region, but lack of reinforcement in the buildings meant the damage, and consequential loss of life, was far greater than it should have been. What I found even more disturbing was that communities had already started rebuilding with the same absence of structural integrity that had existed in the destroyed buildings!”   Marcin Dawydzik 

A simple and sustainable solution

While out in Lombok Els, Marcin and locals discussed how tragedy in the future could be avoided. What was apparent to those familiar with the area was the abundant bamboo forests that surrounded the devastated villages.

The properties of bamboo as a building material have been known for centuries. Lightweight, strong, affordable and sustainable, it could provide a solution to the island’s housing needs. Indeed, Grenzeloos Milieu’s bamboo offices had survived the quake with only minor damage to the concrete foundations. But bamboo, once the building material of the masses, was now reserved for tourist venues while concrete and breezeblocks (often not reinforced) reserved for cheaper housing.  

Marcin returned to the UK and liaised with Xavier to scope a solution. They both were determined to apply Ramboll’s expertise in design with sustainable materials to create a blueprint for safe, affordable and attractive housing using locally sourced bamboo. 

With little known about the commercial applications of bamboo a team of Ramboll engineers  worked  in partnership with Grenzeloos Milieu to meet the design challenge. Few industry standards exist for bamboo, and so we reached out to University College London (UCL) to test bamboo properties. 

Explore the bamboo house design in 3D below. If you cannot view this on your device you can see the design here.


Encouraging local adoption 

Over  2019 the wider team developed and refined the design. But project success depends on local adoption. To ensure the spread of knowledge we have employed local bamboo craftsman and supplemented the building team with unskilled in bamboo works locals. The teams will build two community centres as template houses and learn from one another the crafts. Ramboll volunteers will facilitate the process and ensure safe implementation of the design.

To encourage the adoption, we have created step-by-step design guides which will be freely available to all. Furthermore, we have devised a series of workshops around the most important aspects of the houses as we believe that through education, people will understand why the design can save their lives.

In addition to meeting the immediate needs of Lombok, the ambition is for the designs to be adopted across the entire region, for humanitarian purposes. The learning and designs will be open source and free for everyone to use, so removing barriers to adoption.       

Paving the way for safe commercialised use of bamboo

Designing safe bamboo housing does present challenges, with one major obstacle being the lack of design codes. Collaboration with UCL has been crucial, with tests designed to verify the existing guidance on bamboo. 

We tested bamboo properties in order to validate research, to ensure the sourced bamboo has roughly the properties found in academic publications (properties of bamboo can vary according to when it was cut, how it was grown etc). This allows us to be more precise in the sizing of members and generally more confidence in design with bamboo.

A UCL team will visit Indonesia during construction of the template houses to 3D scan every bamboo piece, allowing us to back-analyse the house, understand the material better and refine our design in the future.

Template house construction

Construction of the two template houses will be completed by local construction teams in the chosen two villages of Salut and Sajang and overseen by Ramboll volunteers in September – October 2019. The teams will come together to share their experiences and feedback the practicalities of building the houses. And with each house to be constructed as a community centre, in publicly accessible areas, we hope the project garners much local interest. 

Leaving a legacy

Every measure has been taken to encourage adoption of the designs. Simple, replicable, low cost, sustainable and inherently safe structures are sought after properties across the entire region.  Bamboo grows across over 16m km2 of the planet, and crucially in areas at risk of sever earthquakes. We believe our engineering expertise can help make lives safer for all. Our partnership with UCL ensures the knowledge gained is made available for the benefit of all.

The final word

“Lombok is an island with a significant influx of tourists. People in Lombok are often promised help from well-intentioned but rather impulsive tourists, who go home after their vacation and forget about the whole problem. Locals have been let down too many times, and now is the time to make a real difference and change this. I am very grateful to the Ramboll team, who have demonstrated great enthusiasm and commitment to deliver this project” Els Houttave, Grenzeloos Milieu

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