Latest Stories

Pride of Place

The virtues of bamboo


THE BAMBOO Sea in Sichuan province, China, is a 120 sq km forest of bamboo

Bamboo. It’s been around us all our lives. It’s something we have so much of that we don’t even think about it anymore.

But, after reading architect Rosario Encarnacion-Tan’s book  “100 Things about Building with Bamboo,” it turns out  bamboo is something we should begin thinking very seriously about.

It’s precisely because we have so much bamboo that we have to think more about it. It’s an abundant, everyday resource so underutilized  we haven’t even begun to realize the possibilities of.

Tan’s book is a great bamboo primer.

Bamboo is sustainable. Several species—123, to be exact, out of a total of 550 worldwide species—grow profusely in our tropical Philippine landscape. Although it has to be manually transplanted, bamboo regenerates so quickly that it seems to multiply before our eyes.

It is environmentally friendly, grows easily even in subsoil or sandy soil, and is good for reforestation or erosion control.

We don’t plant much bamboo any more. From about four-million hectares, we are down to approximately less than a hundred-thousand hectares of bamboo today, and very few bamboo farms still cultivate it.

During a mission to Sichuan province in China, I was taken to survey the Bamboo Forest, where I was astounded by a 120-sq-km primeval ecological bamboo forest with mountains, rivers, karst caves, lakes and falls. The forest is the setting for villages and historic temples.

All houses are of bamboo. Bamboo cooked in different ways was served for our meals. Bamboo is so much a part of the local culture.

Bamboo is also so ingrained in our culture that we take it for granted.

It has been around for a long time. Anthropologist Fernando Zialcita says  the bamboo tradition in the Philippines is at least 3,000 years old.

Since our prehistoric days, centuries ago, we have been building houses of bamboo. “Baskets in the sky,” a European scholar once called our bahay-na-nipa, while marveling at the environmental attunement of our traditional dwellings on stilts walled with woven bamboo.

Tan points out that bamboo suffers from the perception that it is  poor man’s material.

A bamboo house in the Manila suburb of San Mateo.

But the bamboo house is the heir to a rich tradition dating back thousands of years in the Philippines. The knowledge of building techniques is a vanishing oral tradition handed down from one generation to the next.

Bamboo trivia

In “100 Things about Building with Bamboo,” Tan shares a lifetime of researching about bamboo:

1,000 poles of bamboo can build a 200-sq-m house, including the frame for the roof but not including the roof itself.

Bamboo should not be used for roofing because of its susceptibility to UV rays. Exposure to intense sunlight causes bamboo to split. Rains cause waterlogging, which in turn causes bamboo to rot. It is better to use thatch on a bamboo frame for roofing.

Bamboo should not be nailed; it will split and lose its strength. Nylon fishing line is the best material for lashing bamboo.

Bamboo pegs are preferable as bolts for fastening bamboo. They can be made up to an inch in diameter.

Bamboo houses are earthquake-proof because bamboo is flexible, allowing the house to sway with the movement of the ground during an earthquake, relieving stress on the structure.

Bamboo goes well with lumber because both are organic materials; lumber makes a good transition between bamboo and concrete or any other inorganic material.

Bamboo should not be placed against studs, or nailed directly to concrete blocks since these trap moisture, attract insects, and develop into rot.

Bamboo dries faster than any other material after a rain, storm or typhoon.

Bamboo slatted flooring has several advantages: It is inherently decorative, allows ventilation from underneath, has a built-in springiness that makes it pleasant to walk on. It has one disadvantage: Dust falls to the lower floor.

Indoors and outdoors unite in airy transparency in the Encarnacion-Tan house

Conventional construction costs are approximately 65 percent for materials and 35 percent for labor; with bamboo, the ratio is reversed to 65 percent for labor and 35 percent for materials.

The best way to live in a bamboo house is to treat it as a living being: It should be cleaned regularly and lived in.

Living in a bamboo house is in the Philippine DNA. The bahay-na-nipa or bahay-kubo is the classic structure that defines the Filipino cultural identity.

Being in a bahay-kubo for many Filipinos is returning to their roots. The houses are open, with space surrounded by more space, such as balconies wrapping around the entire house, latticework windows, and panels that circulate air.

Interiors are multifunctional, designed for maximum flexibility and openness, with only bedrooms enclosed for privacy.

The bahay-kubo lifestyle evokes simplicity, closeness to nature, and radiates a sense of calm now being lost to the modern, urbanized Filipino.

“It might be a subjective experience on my part, but a bamboo house seems to exert a subtle influence on the people inhabiting it. It almost seems to be a living being.”

The City of Manila recognized Tan’s mission to make Filipinos rediscover our bamboo architecture tradition by awarding her the Sining at Kalinangan 2010 Medal.

She’s a heritage hero.

“100 Things about Building with Bamboo” is available directly from the author. E-mail ning.encarnaciontan@gmail.com

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: 100 Things about Building with Bamboo , Bamboo , Books , Lifestyle , Rosario Encarnacion-Tan

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. How to enjoy Buntod
  2. Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  3. Life lessons I want to teach my son
  4. No tourist draw, Malang the croc will remain wild
  5. ‘Wild West’ Masbate’s pristine marine gems
  6. The best flavors of summer in one bite, and more
  7. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  8. Homemade yogurt, bread blended with pizza, even ramen
  9. What has happened to Barrio Fiesta and Singing Cooks & Waiters?
  10. Haneda International Airport: A destination on its own
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. How to enjoy Buntod
  3. Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  4. How Margie Moran-Floirendo keeps her dancer’s body
  5. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  6. Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  7. ‘Wild West’ Masbate’s pristine marine gems
  8. Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  9. ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  10. Life lessons I want to teach my son
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Mary Jean Lastimosa is new Miss Universe Philippines
  3. Did Angara ruin Pia Wurtzbach’s chances at Bb. Pilipinas?
  4. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  5. Vinegar test helpful vs cervical cancer
  6. From Jeannie to mom of suicide victim
  7. San Vicente beaches hidden but not for long
  8. Borgy and Georgina are back; others are off–again
  9. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  10. Sen. Angara: I thought Pia Wurtzbach gave a good answer


  • Ukraine FM: We are ready to fight Russia
  • Slain officer’s ‘diagram’ rocks PNP
  • 2 contractors fined P25,000 for delays in Edsa rehab
  • Luisita beneficiaries take over renters
  • 5 years of hard work pay off for top UP grad
  • Sports

  • Sharapova advances to Stuttgart quarterfinals
  • Galedo caps ride of redemption
  • Beermen, Express dispute second semis slot today
  • Lady Agilas upset Lady Bulldogs in four sets
  • NLEX roars to 7th D-League win
  • Lifestyle

  • A brand for life
  • Wear a rainbow on your wrist
  • Wearing Kate Moss
  • Sail into summer
  • Life lessons from the Ultimate Warrior
  • Entertainment

  • Kristoffer Martin: from thug to gay teen
  • Has Ai Ai fallen deeply with ‘sireno?’
  • California court won’t review Jackson doctor case
  • Cris Villonco on play adapted from different medium
  • OMB exec’s assurance: We work 24/7
  • Business

  • Gaming stocks gain, PSEi eases on profit-taking
  • Cebu Pacific flew 3.74M passengers as of March
  • Corporate bonds sweeteners
  • Professionals in the family business
  • Foreign funds flowed out in Q1, says BSP
  • Technology

  • Vatican announces hashtag for April 27 canonizations
  • Enrile in Masters of the Universe, Lord of the Rings?
  • Top Traits of Digital Marketers
  • No truth to viral no-visa ‘chronicles’
  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Opinion

  • Editorial Cartoon, April 25, 2014
  • No deal, Janet
  • Like making Al Capone a witness vs his gang
  • MERS-CoV and mothers
  • A graduation story
  • Global Nation

  • Afghan hospital guard kills 3 American doctors
  • Career diplomat is new PH consul general in Los Angeles
  • US4GG: Aquino should ask Obama for TPS approval, drone technology
  • Complex health care system for California’s elderly and poor explained
  • Tiff with HK over Luneta hostage fiasco finally over