Boost for bamboo

BAMBOO BOARDS & BEYOND· exhibition of bamboo furniture by The National Institute of Design·Ahmedabad·India Habitat Centre·New Delhi·January, 2001

By Anasuya Basu
Published: Wednesday 28 February 2001

the patio at the India Habitat Centre resembled a snazzy, comfortable living space with reclining chairs, low side tables, foot stools, screens, snug utility seats, compact closets, sleek standing lamps and a myriad other furniture. Brightly coloured toys lay on rugs that were overturned by the incessant wind blowing across, the pastel coloured cushions for the chairs lay scattered on the floor. A visitor walking in could easily mistake it for a cosy lobby laid out for the tired visitor. Only it wasn't. On view was an exhibition display of "design concepts" made with a new material bamboo boards by faculty members and students of the National Institute of Design (nid), Ahmedabad called 'Bamboo Boards & Beyond' which was on view from January 22 to January 26, 2001. Along with the exhibition, nid had organised daylong workshops on the creation of new applications with laminated bamboo boards.

The applications lay in view that formed a fashion statement on modern day living. Conserving space yet looking elegant, the furniture would be any homemaker's delight. It showcased how bamboo, a cheaper and sustainable alternative to wood, can be used for making furniture with the same kind of finish as wood. The question, however, is whether bamboo could really emerge as an alternative material. "Of course," says M P Rajan, faculty member of industrial design, nid and the project head of Bamboo Boards & Beyond . " We are looking at bamboo as a fully sustainable, eco-friendly industrial material of the future," he says.

But bamboo as it grows or is grown in the country would not be conducive to supporting such sophisticated industry. "We are trying to promote bamboo farming and plantations instead of denuding forests," explains Rajan.

To be able to use bamboo as an industrial material, sustainable development practices are needed. China is using bamboo with a new technology to promote bamboo flooring within the country and beyond. India can learn from this experience, says Rajan. Bamboo Boards & Beyond is an effort to create an awareness to mobilise the Indian interest in this direction, he adds.

Bamboo is also a future material and needs to be handled with care and sensitivity to provide mankind with a truly sustainable natural resource that can be used for a vast number of applications that have hitherto not been explored. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing species of plants. It is extremely versatile and has been traditionally put to a large number of uses. This number is growing each day with new development initiatives taking place around the world. Housing projects in Costa Rica and other parts of Latin America, industrially produced bamboo flooring from China and bamboo mat boards in India are some of the newest uses of this plant in recent years.

nid shows a novel use of this plant making out of it home and industrial furniture with straight lines, smooth corners and natural finish. Take for example the fine plinth chair. "This kind of chair cannot be produced in wood," says Rajan, because wood cannot be cut into such fine strips. Long, finely finished, natural coloured strips of bamboo are pinned with bicycle spokes and other industry byproducts. Designed by a nid student, the chair stands out in its simplicity and slickness.

The green canvas chair, too, catches the eye. Made of bamboo boards, the chair is amazingly light and comfortable. "We are trying to design chairs that will weigh 100 gram," says Rajan. Be it the narrow, space conserving benches or the triangular table, each of the pieces speak of elegant design lines that is a connoisseur's delight.

The exhibition catered to everybody the trader with state-of-the-art shop displays, the housemaker with a wide array of home furniture, the fashion and environment conscious teenager with finely woven handbags and the children with brightly coloured toys.

Yet, all this at what cost? With popular perceptions of bamboo being a cheap alternative that is also truly sustainable and eco-friendly, one would be tempted to look at the price tag. However, Rajan dispels thoughts of affordable prices as he quotes a roughly estimated us $1000 that he hopes his canvas chair would fetch in the us markets . So wait before you think you have a cheap alternative to wood that looks so much like wood.

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