Second year architecture student Alexandra Dangaard joined a select group of 7 UON undergrad and masters students who travelled to Yogyakarta, Indonesia recently with UON Associate Professor Michael Chapman to learn a centuries old craft – how to build with bamboo. Taught by bamboo masters, they worked with locals and other architecture students from Indonesia, Germany and Australia all under the guidance of six Indonesian and seven Australian architects. This was a true cross-cultural collaboration and a practical, hands-on architecture experience like no other.

1. What was the purpose of the AusIndoArch project?

We had two days to design a range of small bamboo structures and installations and present them to our client, to be used in an annual arts and culture festival.  Each group was assigned a project to design and build. The projects varied from entry and exit gates, to seating and bamboo housing proposals.

2. You partnered with Indonesian students and locals. What did you learn about the Indonesian way of life?

I was already reasonably familiar with Indonesian culture and language, having studied there briefly and previously majoring in Indonesian studies and language. My experience on this trip highlighted the differences between their way of life and western culture and values and how everyone can learn from each other.  When we all arrived for the opening night, so many locals from nearby came and shared dinner with us.  Not too many could speak English, or even Indonesian, but would rather converse in Javanese.  Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world – Eid Al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan) was just the week before that, so the locals were extra joyous and kind to us during our time there.

3. Why is it important for architecture students to learn how to work with bamboo?bamboo

Bamboo is quite economic and sustainable – however it is rarely able to be utilised here due to restrictions in Australia’s building code. I have seen it so commonly used in Indonesia and other countries in South East Asia in such diverse ways – from weaving and making musical instruments; to plumbing, scaffolding, and building entire structures with it. The more interest there is in bamboo as a construction material, the more innovatively we can implement it in design and construction.

4. What was the most interesting experience you had as part of the trip?

A bizarre experience for me and I’m sure for the other Australian students too… one day our site became completely filled with people coming to be part of a local singing competition. The birds were judged on how loud, how melodic, or how long they could sing for. Other stand-out experiences included our nightly ‘open air’ lectures given by the master architects right next to a river – it’s so different from being in a lecture theatre that typically doesn’t have windows. Locals would sometimes sit by a fire on the other side of the river listening on.  The concluding night was a party by the river – loud music, lots of people and lots of dancing, which was quite a contrast to the typical calmness of the area.

5. You and the students worked with bamboo masters, what does this mean?

All of the master architects that attended this trip are passionate about sustainable design. Quite a few had extensive experience with designing with bamboo in different ways, others with experience in designing in tropical climates or remote communities. I also consider the local labourers who helped construct our projects with us as bamboo masters – they had extensive experience constructing with bamboo. Their skills and knowledge were admirable and fundamental for our practical learning, especially since bamboo was a completely new material for the Australian students.  I don’t think our projects would have gotten very far without them!


6. Is getting ‘hands-on’ vital to the architecture process?

I think it’s an absolutely integral part of studying architecture. There are so many things that you can’t simply learn in a classroom or from a textbook. Having had barely any experience building anything in my life, this practical hands-on experience was invaluable to me.

7. Did the trip change your perspective on architecture?

It reminded me how challenging comparatively simple design and construction can be compared to what western architecture students might be used to. It also very much demonstrated that simplicity in both technique and space can have just as much of a profound effect as the complex and modern.

8. What would you say to students thinking about studying architecture at UON?

We are lucky to have a design studio that is completely our own and that encourages collaboration and sharing between year groups – no other student cohorts have something like this. The teachers enable students to learn how to incorporate other interests and disciplines into their designs, encourage individuality and provide them with the tools to achieve a diverse range of career goals within architecture.  group

Note: this project was a collaboration which involved students from University of Newcastle, Charles Darwin University, the University of Melbourne, Universitas Gadjah Mada and Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana (Indonesia) and Aachen University (Germany). Michael Chapman was one of eight Australian mentors including Andrea Nield (who organised this incredible elective), Professor Lawrence Nield, Joanna Best (Troppo Architects), Brendan Meney, Ken Yeh (Marra +Yeh), Nici Long (Cave Urban) and Dave Hodgkin. They were kindly hosted on the riverfront homestay of talented local architect Yohana Raharjo. In addition to Yohana, the Indonesian mentors included Lintang Rembulan, Yoshi Fajar, Aryanto Sudjarwo, Medy Krisnany-Samedyastoety and Eko Prawoto.

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