Simón Vélez is a Colombian architect who works alongside artisan, Marcelo Villegas. Together they have pushed the limits of what can be constructed using bamboo, bringing the material to the attention of a wider international audience and at the same time challenging its perception as a building material in their own country, where it signals poverty and marginalisation. Vélez's initial rejection of modernist architectural trends led him to research into the possibilities of constructing with bamboo, specifically the local species called Guada, which is an extremely strong variety. Through adapting indigenous building techniques, the pair have constructed a range of experimental buildings starting in rural Colombia and increasingly in other parts of the world.
The close working relationship between an architect and artisan has allowed Vélez and Villegas to experiment freely with construction methods and has resulted in the development of innovative techniques such as a jointing system for bamboo which uses bolts to tie the structure together rather than the traditional use of straps, which cannot accommodate for the shrinking bamboo. Other innovations include injecting mortar into certain joints, which dramatically increases structural strength, and developing foundations and roofing systems that are more appropriate to their context and materials. For example, roofs are deliberately heavy in order to provide stability in high winds, rather than the lightweight version usually favoured. Vélez and Villegas' working method combines hand-drawn sketches with full scale mock-ups and by always employing the same well-trained crew of workers, they build on knowledge gained over years of experimentation in the building process.
Through their innovations, Vélez and Villegas have breathed new life into an ancient building material and have transformed it into one of the best performing materials in terms of strength, stability and suitability for constructing in earthquake prone regions. Their regular seminars and workshops have been instrumental in popularising bamboo as an ecological material that can be cultivated without damage to the environment and which can provide a low-cost construction method in many developing countries, removing a dependence on imported materials and technologies. By concentrating their efforts at the level of the architectural detail the approach of Vélez and Villegas is similar to that of architect Hsieh-Ying but Vélez and Villegas' construction method does require some specialist training. In contrast, the bamboo structures built by the architect, Eko Prawoto are friendlier to self-building but are also more modest in scale.
Simon Velez, Grow Your Own House: Simon Velez and Bamboo Architecture (Weil am Rhein: Vitra Design Museum, 2000).
Marcelo Villegas, Tropical Bamboo: Bambusa Guadua (Bogotá: Villegas Editores, 1989).
---, New Bamboo: Architecture and Design (Bogotá: Villegas Editores, 2003).
Darrel DeBoer, Bamboo Building and Culture: Applications in the US (El Sobrante: Darrel DeBoer, 2003).
DeBoer Architects, 'Bamboo Thoughts', http://www.deboerarchitects.com/BambooThoughts.html [accessed 9 March 2010].
'Bamboo: Colombia', ZERI, http://www.zeri.org/case_studies_bamboo.htm [accessed 9 March 2010].
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