Bamboo Design Initiative
In the late 1990s, RISD and the Environmental Bamboo Foundation in Bali, Indonesia, engaged in a multi-year partnership to explore innovative uses and applications of bamboo—the fastest growing woody plant on earth, but one long deemed inferior by the Western world. “RISD’s willingness to do research and development on bamboo design shows a pioneering spirit that could bring about significant change,” noted Linda Garland of the Foundation.
In keeping with RISD’s commitment to teach socially and ecologically responsible design practices, the Bamboo Design Initiative began as a research project in the Furniture Design Department, where students were asked to investigate the unique properties of bamboo and explore its creative potential. The project quickly grew to include students in the departments of Architecture, Industrial Design, Interior Architecture and Landscape Architecture.
Students typically spent a semester experimenting with various methods of working with discrete types of bamboo and conceiving of appropriate applications, building on the research of their predecessors. Among the wide range of methods explored were crushing, milling, slicing and splitting various types of bamboo—Calcutta, Guadua, Manau, Taiwan—with unique characteristics. Student would then cast, carve, laminate, weave, bend or assemble a particular species into utilitarian objects—everything from clothing to packaging, vessels, folding chairs, table legs and landscape lighting.
The goal was “to get this material in the public eye,” according to the faculty members involved with the studios. Generous support from the Hassenfeld Foundation enabled RISD to wrap up the multidisciplinary Bamboo Design Initiative in 2000, having made great strides in determining innovative uses for this remarkable renewable resource.
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