For architect Earl Forlales, living in a bamboo house is second nature. "Filipinos have been using bamboo (for housing) even before colonial times, for thousands of years," he says.
Bamboo grows to maturity in 40 to 150 years, but builders can harvest and use it after only three years. Bamboo manufactured into engineered lumber can last a lifetime. Forlales's grandparents lived in a traditional bamboo home known as a Bahay Kubo, a boxy hut on stilts. This inspired Forlales to use his materials engineering degree to enter the "Cities for our Future" challenge, a contest run by the UK's Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in 2018.
He won the competition and started his own company, Cubo, in 2019. Cubo creates prefabricated bamboo homes. Builders can assemble a home in a few days. Forlales predicts that each home should last more than 50 years.
The homes come with modern fixtures and impact-resistant polycarbonate windows. In addition, metal "typhoon ties" connect the walls, roof, and floors. As a result, the bamboo homes withstand natural disasters.
To prove his point, just days after the first two Cubo homes were erected in December 2020, a magnitude 6.0 earthquake hit the area. Both structures survived.
Other Southeast Asia companies capitalize on bamboo's qualities. For example, a Vietnamese firm, Vo TRong Nghia Architects, uses bamboo on larger-scale projects, including the Casamia Resort in Hoi An, and bamboo pavilions for the Taicung Flora Exposition in Taiwan.
Elora Hardy, an architect from Bali, Indonesia, says that while builders have used bamboo for thousands of years, "it's only now that we have safe, natural treatment solutions that we can consider building multi-story buildings. Skyscrapers and even whole cities can be built out of bamboo."
Some Southeastern Asia companies cite bamboo strengthened by modern treatment and fabrication techniques as a viable material to construct small to large-scale projects.