Exploring Bali's enchanting bamboo village
Bamboo has an odd set of characteristics as a construction material. It is tougher to pull apart than steel, yet it can quickly be turned to dust by powderpost beetles. It is vulnerable to moisture, yet highly resistant to earthquakes. And perhaps as a consequence, it is widely available, yet goes largely unused. In any case, the team behind the Green Village has been bending bamboo into spectacular luxury villas in the Balinese jungle for years, so New Atlas ventured into the island's heartland to see firsthand how the pioneering architects at Ibuku are changing perceptions of this wildly abundant material.
When it comes to sustainable building materials bamboo boasts some serious credentials. A type of grass found all over the tropics, bamboo can be harvested without killing the plant, regenerates a lot faster than wood and is also harder to pull apart. It is thin and hollow, giving it great flexibility, but still with the compressive force of concrete and strength-to-weight ratio of steel. And just to top it off, it it has an excellent capacity to capture carbon.
But to its detriment, the list of attractions doesn't stop there. The glucose within bamboo is simply irresistible to insects like the powderpost beetle, which teams up with termites to devour the material long before it can serve as any meaningful, longstanding creation. This is a key reason bamboo has largely been limited to short-term structures across Asia and decorative features in the West, but Ibuku has come up with a treatment method that it says allows bamboo to last for much, much longer.
About five minutes' drive from the Green Village, a local craftsman strolls into the showroom of the Bamboo Factory – the design workshop, treatment facility and engine room of the whole operation. He gives us some time to poke and prod at the peculiar creations on display, such as a xylophone and a go-kart with a bamboo chassis, before whisking us away to tour the facility.
He wears a big toothy grin, sandals that are suited to the searing heat, pants that most certainly are not, and you can tell he absolutely loves bamboo. Three to five years, he tells us while standing over a stack of freshly cut shoots, three to five years. This is the harvesting window that brings in bamboo young enough not to crack, but mature enough not to shrink as a result of youthful, soft fibers.
There are around 1,500 species of bamboo around the world, but Ibuku primarily uses a one called Dendrocalamus asper, or "Petung" in Indonesian. The firm plucks these from the river valleys and mountains of Bali and the nearby islands of Java and Flores, where hundreds of individual farmers raise the grass through its short-growth cycle before carting their harvests off to the Bamboo Factory.
The factory is more of an open-air carpentry workshop than an enclosed manufacturing plant, with an arrangement of tin-roof shelters that each oversee various phases of the bamboo's transformation from vulnerable insect fodder to useful building material. Under one of these hot tin roofs, our guide leads us up to a set of long, narrow tanks brimming with blackened, gunky liquid called boron solution.
Boron is a chemical element found in nature that scientists have recently tapped to create ultra-sensitive gas sensors and advanced multipurpose materials in the lab. By immersing its bamboo in this boron solution, Ibuku is able to suppress the glucose inside the material and make it indigestible for insects. It is then blasted with a pressure washer to clean off any fungus and left to dry in the sun.
Ibuku has used this treated bamboo in more than 50 unique structures, including a boutique hotel in Ubud, Bali's cultural mecca about a 40 minute drive from the factory, and the nearby Green School, where both local and international students are educated on the finer points of building with bamboo. But its grandest accomplishment is surely Sharma Springs, a magnificent, fantastical jungle retreat that towers six stories above the Green Village, a collection of 18 uniquely crafted, bamboo jungle homes.
The palatial four-bedroom bamboo manor stands over the gushing Ayung River and truly is a sight to behold ... from a distance. The trouble with visiting gorgeous guesthouses on tropical islands is that, well, sometimes they have guests in them. Our visit to the Green Village unfortunately didn't allow us to even set foot inside Sharma Springs, something we would have settled for given the incredible bamboo tunnel that connects its entrance to the opposite side of a steep gorge.
But what we did see on our wander around the Green Village was more than enough to impress. Our tour began in the village's common area, where hospitality staff work with a hurried precision to feed guests with rice and noodle dishes and welcome the newly arrived with refreshing ice tea.
In a brief poolside rundown of the village's material of choice, our host explains how concrete is poured into the bases of the bamboo structural columns to secure them to their foundations: large river rocks that prevent moisture seeping in from the surrounding earth. He also tells us that "Ibu" means mother and "ku" means mine, together translating to "my Mother Earth."
And then we're off to our first stop, the three-story Garden Villa. The first level is open to the elements allowing the breeze to waft through the modern kitchen and dining areas, where a bamboo table sits surrounded by bespoke chairs, bench seating and lush green foliage.
Much of the village's furniture and interior decorations are bespoke and crafted to emphasize the versatility and aesthetic appeal of bamboo. An intricate lampshade made up of 30 or 40 separate shoots hovering over the study on the Garden Villa's top floor was the probably the most sophisticated example of this, but we were also impressed by thick bamboo columns fashioned into bar stools and parked alongside the kitchen's island bench.
The Garden Villa has no walls but the steep, sloping roof does plunge all the way down to the top of the first floor, sheltering winding staircases that connect the study on the top floor with a TV room in the middle, and then the bedrooms and bathrooms down below. The dramatic overhanging roofs that enclose the homes of the Green Village are made from bamboo shingles and aluminum lining, which protect the interiors from the savage monsoon rains. Conveniently, they also allow visitors to stand on the bottom floor and peer up toward the ceiling, taking in elaborate joinery that is as stunningly complex as it is marvelous to look at.
The Garden Villa's front yard hosts a private swimming pool and bamboo bungalow for lazy afternoons. Inside is more bespoke bamboo tables and chairs and a bathroom area with a shower head hanging from a trio of vertical bamboo shoots, a taller one to house the piping and two smaller cuts topped with soap holders.
The Garden Villa is certainly a captivating example of sustainable architecture and luxury design, but the Temple House takes this to another level. You enter through a peculiar egg-shaped revolving door, past a bathroom hidden away inside a giant bamboo wicker-basket and into a spacious open-plan, open air kitchen and living area with magical 270-degree views of the surrounding valley. This top level hosts a large dining table, along with smaller benches and plenty of seating for guests to sit back and take in the sounds and smells of the jungle.
Just like the Garden Villa, the Temple House is spread across three levels connected by twisting bamboo staircases. The landing on the second floor is fitted with more seating and a decorative wall made from latticed bamboo strips. Behind the wall is a curved triangular master bedroom with more of those lovely views, alongside a bedroom with bamboo bunks for the kids.
If you've even spent one night in Bali then you are probably thinking the same thing that we were, do open air homes and jungles buzzing with mosquitoes really mix? As is relatively common with accomodation across the island, the beds come accompanied by mosquito nets, but the rooms are enclosed by glass panes just to be sure and are also fitted with air conditioning to keep them nice and cool.
Downstairs is where the fun really begins, with a private plunge pool and decking that overlooks the Ayung River below. As you take the steps down to the pool there is a stone bath built into the slope, you know, just in case you need to stop and cleanse yourself of all that luxury living.
The villas at Green Village are simply stunning on the inside and out, and surely would satisfy any holidaymaker looking to treat themselves to a lavish, jungle retreat. But there is something bigger at play here and the devil is in the detail, from a carefully crafted bamboo bunk bed ladder to the bespoke light fittings.
These finer points tell a tale of extreme dedication and deep belief in the potential for sustainably sourced materials to not just provide shelter, but do so in incredibly beautiful ways. When you wander through these homes with the soft bamboo floor flexing gently underfoot, it's kind of hard not to feel inspired.
But sleeping amongst that kind of inspiration doesn't come cheap. A night at Sharma Springs will cost you around US$700 a night through Airbnb, and that's if you can find a vacancy (hint: try skipping ahead to June next year). Some are cheaper, like the Sunrise House which will set you back US$333, while others are actually for sale should you be in the market for your own little slice of jungle luxury.
The Green Village is around a 90-minute drive from Denpasar airport, which equates to a US$20 taxi ride give or take, and is far removed from the bustling, booze-soaked streets of the island's southwest. You can take a US$28 tour to see the magic of the Green Village without paying the price of one hundred Bintang beers for a single night's accommodation. Failing that, you can stay where you are and have a flick through our picture gallery instead.
Source: Green Village