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Earl Patrick Forlales: bamboo housing pioneer

Earl Patrick Forlales: bamboo housing pioneer

Meet Earl Patrick Forlales who won the 2018 Cities for our Future competition with an environmentally sustainable bamboo housing system that could improve the lives of millions of people living in slums.

When he was a child, Earl would visit his grandfather on his provincial farm in the Philippines and stay in a traditional bamboo dwelling. “I loved going there. It is an essential part of the Filipino childhood experience.”

The 23-year-old’s childhood memories are the inspiration for Cubo, his modular bamboo housing system that aims to provide an affordable and environmentally sustainable alternative to slum housing for poor workers in the sprawling capital city Manila.

Building with bamboo: a winning idea

Cities for our Future challenged for young professionals, business start-ups and students involved in surveying, urban design, architecture and engineering to devise practical solutions to tackle climate change, resource scarcity and rapid urbanisation.

Bamboo is a long-term solution that is sturdy, durable and provides dignified housing. Recent advancements in materials engineering have made bamboo a viable and low-cost material for creating cities.

Earl Patrick Forlales

Earl's Cubo idea beat entries from around the world, including Team Heat Island’s ingenious Evaporous cooling system, which proposed replacing energy-guzzling air conditioning systems in arid African cities with locally made porous ceramic panels, designed to reduce the air temperature through evaporation.

One-third of the 12 million people who live in Manila have inadequate housing, exposed to pollution and without proper sanitation or access to fresh water. Many are construction workers who come to the city on temporary contracts.

“Relocating people outside the city is not an option because it adds to their expenses by moving them away from areas of opportunity. I wanted to combine the service provisions offered by national housing with the availability of slum housing,” says Earl.

“Recent advancements in materials engineering have made bamboo a viable and low-cost material for creating cities. I am a materials engineering chemist by education, but an architect by heart.”

Bamboo: super strong and sustainable

Bamboo’s prodigious growth rate makes it a carbon-hungry plant – and one of the world’s most efficient carbon storage systems. Bamboo is also a pioneer plant, meaning it can grow in places no other plants can. This makes it a valuable tool for re-stabilising eroded landscapes, and also means it doesn't have to compete with food crops for land.

And bamboo is strong. So strong that some researchers believe bamboo composites could replace steel as the structural reinforcement material of choice in buildings – a shift that would drastically reduce the carbon debt of construction.

Building environmentally sustainable communities

Earl proposes co-housing communities made of prefabricated units that recall traditional designs and use the plentiful, cheap supply of bamboo from farms outside Manila. The bamboo will be laminated making it tougher, less flammable and more resistant to rain – an innovation inspired by Earl’s background in chemistry and materials science engineering.

The building modules can be put together on site in four hours and link together into a community with a shared kitchen and eating area, showers, toilets and other shared facilities.

Earl aims to house 10,000 workers and their families in Cubo units in the Philippines by 2023. He believes the concept could be exported to other parts of Asia, as well as Africa and South America, where bamboo is already used as a building material.

“It is a long-term solution that, although low cost, is sturdy and durable, and it provides dignified housing in areas close to the sources of work and to facilities. A future city with a Cubo co-housing community in it is a sustainable city.”

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