Welcome to Episode 128!
STIMY Episode 128 features Ewe Jin Low.
Ewe Jin Low built a thriving architectural practice in the UK, Australia and Southeast Asia before deciding to make the great leap and move to Bali to focus on bamboo architecture!
There, he was Lead Architect at IBUKU – designing buildings found at Green School.
He has since established his own practice at TENTEN Design, launched Better Bamboo Buildings and published his own book, “Bamboo Ark 1” in 2022.
P/S: This interview is also available on YouTube!
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Who Is Ewe Jin Low?
Imagine spending 30 years working as an architect.
Then deciding to uproot your entire life from the UK to move to Bali to work in a new field of architecture – bamboo!
Because that’s exactly what Ewe Jin Low.
- 2:23 Bamboo groves
- 4:24 Architectural practice
- 7:15 The only Asian guy in the room
- 8:41 Battles fought
- 10:32 Prejudice against colour of skin
Bamboo Architecture in Bali
When Ewe Jin made the big move to Bali, he worked as Lead Architect at IBUKU covering buildings like the Green School and in 2018, began his own bamboo journey by founding his own bamboo architecture firm TENTEN and Better Bamboo Buildings in 2020 – a platform that shares information and insights on bamboo design.
Ewe Jin’s bamboo journey to date has included designing and building more than 80 bamboo buildings in many different regions.
In 2022 he published a bamboo architecture book titled ‘Bamboo Ark 1’. He continues the journey to give talks, run courses and workshops and to create more buildings and installations in bamboo.
So if you’re like to learn more about this relatively new form of architecture, this is the episode for you!
- 12:01 Moving to Bali
- 15:02 How bamboo has transformed his life & attitude
- 16:31 Letting go of everything
- 18:45 Assimilating into the real Bali culture
- 22:20 Learning about bamboo as a material
- 33:48 Common questions
- 36:30 Maintenance
- 43:36 Bamboo pioneers
- 46:09 Green School Bali
- 52:05 The SWAT Team of Bamboo Workers
- 56:50 Is it actually green architecture?
- 1:00:49 Is bamboo cheaper?
- 1:05:00 Construction bamboo forests?
If you’re looking for more inspirational stories, check out:
- Eric Toda: Global Head of Social Marketing, Meta
- Jacqueline Novogratz: Founder, Acumen
- Karl Mak: Founder, Hepmil Media – Building a Viral Meme Business in Southeast Asia
- Apolo Ohno: The Most Decorated US Olympian in History – on the power of psychotic obsession & how to win in 40 secs
- Lydia Fenet: Top Christie’s Ambassador who raised over $1 billion for non-profits alongside Elton John, Matt Damon, Uma Thurma etc.
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Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:
- TENTEN Design
- Better Bamboo Buildings
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STIMY 128: Building the Bamboo SWAT Team | Ewe Jin Low (Founder, TENTEN Design & Building Bamboo Buildings)
Ewe Jin Low: When you are on a different contractual side, if you are a builder and I'm the architect, we always have to butt heads. You have to choose a platform where your butt heads nicely, right? No broken bones, no punches thrown. If you can do that, then I think that makes you a bit more successful than fighting all the way.
A lot of the experience in England when I worked was learning about contracts. How to formulate a contract, how to run it. You know, as a lawyer, how do you defend your design or your work, your drawings, right? A builder or a contractor can hire a team of five people just to make claims during the project.
So this battle goes on all this glory about design and all that fades away when you have to fight this battle.
Ling Yah: Hey everyone, welcome to episode 128 of the So This My Why podcast. I'm your host and producer Ling Yah and today's guest is Ewe Jin Low. Ewe Jin is a bamboo architect and author who began his journey in bamboo in 2015, where he worked first as a lead architect at Ibuku in Bali. On projects like the green school before founding his own architecture firm, 1010 Design, and Better Bamboo Buildings, a platform sharing all things related to bamboo building designs.
Now, bamboo is a growing field with tremendous use, particularly in Asia. And I thought it'd be interesting to have Ewe Jin come on because he spent 30 years working initially as a conventional architect in the UK. Australia and Southeast Asia before deciding to make a big leap to move to Bali to work in bamboo.
Big changes aren't easy or common, especially when you already have an established practice and Eugene shares why and how he did that leap, the nature of bamboo and what the future of the construction industry looks like.
So are you ready?
I learned that you grew up in Tampa, Perak, and also Melaka. Feels like you were all over the place. And I wonder what was your childhood like? Why were you just in many different places when you were young?
Ewe Jin Low: Hi, Ling Yah. Thank you for inviting me. Yes, I grew up as a lonely kid. I didn't have any siblings when I grew up. My parents were always busy, so I was left to my own devices, good and bad. And my father was a police officer, so he is sort of been transferred all over the place. Not much permanency, always moving around. Less friends.
You don't get to make a lot of friends over the time you're there. So I tried to find ways to entertain myself. And so happened some of the places I'm at had bamboo groves nearby. This sort of early childhood was discovering the groves, playing around it, getting cut, getting itchy from the fibers. Spending too much time around it and having to get caned when you come back late.
So it's it's an experience that I never thought I would apply or help me in my later years.
Ling Yah: So how did that happen? How did you go from just playing around, making your own bows and arrows from bamboo to going, I wanna be an architect, which feels very different from your dad who was a policeman.
Ewe Jin Low: I think it's more creativity.
I felt that I wanted to create things and in playing with bamboo and other materials, in wandering around, we didn't have much spare money. So you made your own toys. In those days, you made your own games. You fish, you hunt and you play with what you have. And, and you had to be creative. And that was one of the things that engendered me, I, I guess, towards a creative profession.
And that was the first thing I chose. Rightly or wrongly. Yeah. I applied to become an architect.
Ling Yah: And what was it like because my sister just finished AA and for me, she was intensely stressed for a very, very long period of time. There's always deadlines, you're always presenting before your tutors who are always trying to rip apart whatever you have come up with to make sure that, whatever you've presented it would stand on these two feet. I wonder what your experience was like.
Ewe Jin Low: I think first thing to start off with is none of my kids became architects. Right? So that's good and bad. Some architects have their kids follow their footsteps, even take over their practices. I didn't go that way. Yeah.
Architecture as a course is very consuming. It sort of takes over your life. Almost takes up I think 90% of your time during the course. You don't learn all the things you're supposed to learn during the course. You learn a fraction of it and you suffer a lot because you're trying to learn this design process, all the technical parts and putting it all together.
I didn't benefit too much because I was also trying to earn my fees while I was studying. So I had to run three jobs while studying. So all the time it was just making it through sometimes getting good grades, but most of the time just getting through and then completing my architecture degrees.
Yeah, the process I would say helped me, helped me a lot in the very basics, but more helpful was actually going out to work. I think starting in a small firm, having to do everything that is pretty much the basics of it, right? Not many architects get a chance in their first five years to experience the whole process, right? To get a job from the start and to the end handing over to the client. Many get pockets of it because let's say you work for a big firm you gotta work, you see this section of it, right? You don't see a lot. Whereas if you are slotted correctly, then you get that opportunity.
I got that opportunity in a few places that I worked, and it stabilized me. It gave me a lot of confidence, a lot of knowledge to do things as an architect.
Ling Yah: Was it clear to you because lots of people that were doing degree and they would think, oh, this is not for me. But for you, it sounds like yes, even though it's very difficult. I know I wanna be an architect upon graduation.
Ewe Jin Low: Actually during the course, there were many times when I said, oh, I wish I had signed up for graphic design, or like a three year course to say Let's finish it and get on with it. Right? But yeah, managed to pull through and gradually it became clearer.
A lot of the process of working in the early years was learning. Learning the hard way. Bosses, putting you into spots where you have to learn how to adjust. Be brave. Make the mistake. Work like crazy, right? And achieve it. Achieve it, sometimes failing.
But once you have run through these hoops, you begin to build confidence and the picture becomes clearer as a professional from not just design, but handling clients, handling contractors, handling workers on site, handling racial issues, right?
I got bricks thrown down on me as a foreigner in England.
Ling Yah: Really?
Ewe Jin Low: Well, just because I'm a different color maybe. Running big meetings as a Asian guy in those days in the seventies was a bit tough as a young man coming in and trying to tell 50 year old guys, right, who is 40 years in a business, what to do.
That was a big challenge.
Ling Yah: How did you overcome it? How did you get them to listen to you?
Ewe Jin Low: It was very, very tough in the early meetings, right? Everything was a big sweat, right? It was like, oh no. But I think gradually when they see that the intent is for the project, you want this for the good of the project, then they see your intent, and, and they sometimes they align with you.
Other times when you are on a different contractual side, if you are a builder and I'm the architect, we always have to butt heads. You have to choose a platform where your butt heads nicely, right? No broken bones, no punches thrown. If you can do that, then I think that makes you a bit more successful than fighting all the way.
A lot of the experience in England when I worked was learning about contracts. How to formulate a contract, how to run it. You know, as a lawyer, how do you defend your design or your work, your drawings, right? A builder or a contractor can hire a team of five people just to make claims during the project.
So this battle goes on all this glory about design and all that fades away when you have to fight this battle.
Ling Yah: Were there some of the more memorable ones that you're open to sharing in terms of these battles that you had to learn to fight?
Ewe Jin Low: Yeah, I mean, one of the firms I work in England with put me in charge of a project.
I was the only foreigner and I was the project architect with two architects under me to run this project. The director was behind me, but he doesn't go to meetings. He says, you go to the meeting. Oh, man. So the first meeting was already a fight. I knew because everyone was already defensive. So you have to get a good grasp of what your design is, first of all, which most architects do.
Second is you have to get a tight rein on the contract. What contract do you sign and what are your boundaries? You know that as a lawyer, but as architects, in those days, you don't have many project managers. You are the project manager. You are the architect, you are the designer. You are the man that presses all the buttons on your side.
The contractor has got their own contract director. And this is the butting that I'm talking about. So you know, it, it's learning how to handle what the contractor brings at you. Oh, your drawings are wrong. Let me show you this markup. I've marked it up with 200 red marks, right? Let's go through each one.
How do you answer that? He said, no, hang on a minute. I'm not here to do that. So it's all these skills that you build up. It's trying to communicate with them. Sometimes it's a challenge of fighting up for the design, right?
You want something and they want to change it. You say, oh, I've talked to the client. It is a cheaper price and you're gonna do it.
You say no. The contract says, I want this material. So you do it. Otherwise, you know, you'd be penalized. In the end, it is human behavior. Whatever skills you have, however great a architect you are, it is also backed down to earth. Talking human to human to solve a problem.
Ling Yah: Would you say that being in the UK allowed you to essentially grow the practice that you have now as opposed to moving back to Asia? Were you ever tempted to come back? Because here you wouldn't face that natural prejudice just because of who you are, the color of your skin?
Ewe Jin Low: Yeah. I think the foundation of working in England: the contractual work, the design work, the experience actually put me in very good stead when I went back to KL to practice.
I was quite well placed in terms of running a job, producing the drawings for a job, taking it through. In the Asian context, obviously the sort of nuances are different. It is more relationships, less contractual. The contractual side fades away.
Unless there is a conflict, so you don't bring up the contract at all. You try to build the building without even mentioning the contract. And if you can do that, then it's successful.
A lot of what I faced in Asia was the how would you call it? Uncertainties. Areas which are blurred by maybe a bit of bribery, corruption, or when lines are blurred, right? That's what I faced. I didn't like working in that part of the story. I liked it in the West. Even in Australia now and in England where everything is quite clear. You have a set of drawings and you build the set of drawings.
There's no hanky panky. Everything is cool. I like that. I like that more. And I thrive in that environment. Instead of where things can move that are out of your control.
Ling Yah: Then why would it be that after 30 years working in UK and Australia decided I'm gonna make a big move and move to Bali? What's behind that big move?
Ewe Jin Low: It's funny because at that point when I saw this advert for a lead architect working in bamboo, I was already moving into, I would say between my third and fourth quarter of my career. Almost saying, Hey, this time to slow down. Let's take it easy. Or sat in a room in the same room I am now here in Australia where I'm saying, yeah, I wanna slow down.
I want to take care of my health more. Spend time with my family. And then this advert came up. This advert talked to me. It's strange, right? This advert just called me and I said, wow, what am I doing?
I was called to apply for it and I applied. I applied without telling my wife and my kids and got an interview.
In fact, I was invited there to Bali, had six interviews.
Ling Yah: Wow.
Ewe Jin Low: Even the staff interviewed me. It was interesting. When I told my family, they think, dad, you must be crazy, right? Why you wanna go to Bali for? Everything is cool here. Said No. It just attracts me to go, right?
'cause something is calling me there. I don't know what. And then my wife and I uprooted from Melbourne. Left the kids. Here's the house. Go. We went off to Bali and we were there for eight years until Covid.
Ling Yah: What was the way in which you convinced your wife? Yes. Follow me to Bali of all places.
Ewe Jin Low: I think we were at a stage where the kids were grown up. They were pretty flexible. They were flapping their wings, ready to leave the nest, and we felt, yeah, this is a good time to experiment. To give it a shot and try, It's for a period I think the contract was yearly, so we said, let's go and try for one year.
You don't have too many things tying us down to the ground. So we made the move. We made the move.
Ling Yah: Was bamboo a common material back then in the west, whether in Australia and the uk?
Ewe Jin Low: Totally zilch right. My knowledge of Bamboo technically as an architect was nothing. Zero. Yeah, zero.
This in fact bringing back the story of playing with Bamboo. I think part of it got me the job. The second was being Asian. Able to speak Malay and Bahasa so that I can communicate with the balinese staff. Having the experience in the west, having experience in Malaysia ties it all together. And I think with my personality of being sort of affable and, and quite relaxed, I got the job.
They were looking for an architect for a long time to help them. sometimes I think in a career you never expect it can happen suddenly, right? But I think what you do in the past, if you've done it well, sometimes it can help you as a group to secure something else.
My going to Bali was out of sync. Out of sync, but it really transformed my life and my attitudes tremendously. Tremendously over the years.
Ling Yah: How has it transformed your life and attitude?
Ewe Jin Low: I have this slide that I use for quite a lot of my talks. When I first landed in Bali, leather shoes, long pants, socks, on my feet. One photo.
The next photo is a couple of years later. Ooh. Sandals and shorts and the last photo is five years later. Oh, flip flops. Shorter shorts. It's like almost clearing out, right? Doing a clear out. Chucking your baggage and then lightening one's journey.
That was the feeling. Especially when you look at the environment. The office where I work in Ibud was no windows. Everything is open. If it rains, fair enough, bring down the blinds. You get some rain. So what? If there's thunderstorm, stop work. Relax, and then continue.
It's very good because you actually come back to nature. You are not in a box. You're not in a square air conditioned box. Very big difference. And I felt it straight away and say, wow, shouldn't this be the way everyone works if you can help it. We have lost our direction somehow.
You have to commute to work. You have to put on five layers. Not layers of clothes, just but layers, right? Layers of masks to do what you have to do to earn a living through your life. And then say, oh, what can I do after this 60 years of work? I'll now enjoy life. No, we should be living life as we go.
Wow. What an opportunity to do it. And yeah, we continued that way.
Ling Yah: But after 30 years moving to such a different lifestyle, was it hard for you at first to let everything you knew before go.
Ewe Jin Low: It was the right time for me. I think it was the right time for me where there was a release. I didn't have much pressure financially or family wise to say.
You have your kids to go through uni, right? They've gone through already. We have set them up nicely that they can find their own life which is actually one of my things, right? I felt that, wow. As a couple, we brought our kids up. We didn't use many guidebooks or whatever. We brought them the way we felt was right, and now they're ready to go.
They're ready to go and they are equipped. I felt that was one of the measures of success. If you can do that without too much hassle, then I claim it. I claim it that, wow, if I go now I can sign off. Now I'm happy because my kids can move and they can take on the next generation. So that left me in a place where I'm ready to sort of experiment.
And the Bali environment helped it. You are transported 30 to 40 years back when I was a kid or a teenager, right back to Malacca. Back to Tapah, riding a little Honda 60 cc. No helmet going around. We didn't have a car. All of us had bikes in the end. We had one bike at first and then we just went around on a bike.
Lived very simply. More open life. Ate very well. Well meaning healthy. The Balinese in Ubud the lifestyle is good if you know how to use it. A lot of their ingredients are natural from the ground, from the garden. The spiritual environment is also very strong. The people there, their religious fervor is very solid, right?
They are really, really fervent. They worship their Hindu gods five times a day. Wow. They put sacrifices for it, and their festivals are strong. So that background, that religious background is also very solid for the Balinese. I admire that in their own right. The culture, right? Many people come in from overseas and this melting pot of every kind of activity you like, from kite flying to top spinning to yoga, whatever .
Is there, if you want it.
Ling Yah: What was your way in assimilating into this environment? Because obviously when you talk to people, they always say, oh, let's go to Bali. If you're a digital nomad, let's go to Bali. But it always feels like a very commercial part of it, whereas it feels like you have really tapped into what Bali is and what the real Balinese culture and local people are doing. What are your tips?
Ewe Jin Low: Yeah. I had a friend who this weekend went to Bali .He was just going to the south where all the tourism is. So that belt is purely to bring in the millions of tourists every month. You can almost be in Phuket. You can almost be in any southeast Asian beach resort there.
There's nothing to say it's Balinese except maybe for the people and some of the buildings. That part is totally commercialized. If you move up a bit north, right to where it's greener and less populated, let's say from Ubud up north onwards, you get less and less development and more and more culture. The culture comes in front of the development.
And fortunately where we moved to was near Ubud. Away from all that. So we don't get the sort of big hotels with a few thousand people. We are just almost like village or compound type scale. You know your guy selling you your rice in the morning or you go to market, you still recognize the person and he knows you by name.
Transported back many years, right? It becomes more personal and less commercialized where you say you have a dollar, I want your dollar, I don't need your name. Bang. It's transporting back, Something that was lost, I think in the cities is very tough, very tough now to have that kind of relationship, that kind of experience. Even for tourists, who come to Bali.
They see this front end, commercial part of it. Whereas I think if you are tuned in better, you then make an effort to go away up to where it's harder to reach.
Ling Yah: So how do you find that slice of authentic Bali? You've never been there, you dunno anyone there. And all you can do is just Google and see what comes up. When you say, I wanna visit Bali, places to go.
Ewe Jin Low: I think it's how a person is wired. If you are wired in a conventional way. Yeah, you want a beach resort, you want convenience, you want an aircon room. You wanna play on the beach, you want good food.
Fair enough. Then the tourism zone is good for you. If you're looking for something that's different. If you want to look for something that's a bit green, and a track from the normal, away from the normal, then yeah, go off the beaten track or look for areas. Well find areas that you cannot even Google right? Ask the driver, ask the restaurant guy if you can.
I think that's a good way to see it. And I think one of the best ways is to stay in a place more permanently. You never get the experience that we got unless you stayed there for more than three years, I guess. That brings you deeper into the community, into its values.
When you intersect with people, find out their issues, find out what turns them on, How to encourage them. What motivates them. All that you can only get when you go face-to-face and have some kind of relationship,
I think intersecting with a lot of Indonesians, where I worked in IBUKU was a privilege from different islands, different cultures, different religions, intersecting with interns from many countries in the west.
At one stage I had seven interns to take care of from different countries. It was a headache. The interns took up 40% of my time and they should take out only 20%. But you learn from them. They learn from you.
Ling Yah: Speaking of IBUKU, obviously you arrive, you have to figure out what is bamboo for the material.
And one of the things was, I was reading your book, which you came up with during the pandemic, Bamboo Ark, I noticed that in every construction the kind of bamboo that's used is so different and is imported from all over the place.
So I imagine for you just learning about what bamboo is, the types of babo that's available, how do you harvest it how do you treat it.
All those things were the very foundation of what you needed to even be a proper architect. How did you even start to learn? What were some of the things that you can give us for anyone who's trying to think of, Hmm, I want to think of going to Bamboo architecture.
What does that look like?
Ewe Jin Low: Wow. Long answer.
Okay. I think any architect aspiring to go into bamboo, probably I answered it from that perspective. It is really, finding a place that you are comfortable with. Getting into it and immersing yourself. Hopefully somewhere where there's already a precedent and they are already doing the dance.
Ibudku has already been doing that dance for maybe eight years when I joined. And the Balinese with their bamboo, the story has gone back generations when children were actually taught from young to get a pole, harvest a pole from the back garden, come out, break it down into parts, and build something.
Oh, there's an upacara or ceremony coming up. We have to worship our ancestors. Let's build this thing. So they're gonna build a hut. A little hut that they can make sacrifices on. Or there's a funeral coming. It's called ban. Ban is a huge thing for the Bais, where you have to bring the body out.
They actually buried it and wait for the right date. And then they bring the body out and then they, they sort of send off the body. The flight's going, they send it off. But all the stuff that you build to send off, including the almost hearse, the tower. Sometimes they build a five story tower if you are rich, right out of bamboo.
So all these skills that build up through the years is embedded in the Bali culture as a kid. And some become specialists. They learn about how to use a knife called a mo. They learn how to use it without cutting off their fingers. And they build up this skill.
They learn about all the different kinds of bamboo. What is good to make a container. What bamboo is good and how do you break it down into parts? What bamboo is good to make a little hut. And how long does it last? Ooh, my granddad's bamboo hut only lasted two years. 'cause it's eaten by bugs.
How do you then change the bamboo to make it the right bamboo? And all this discovery through the years has led to what it was. And when I arrived they were already dancing this dance, right? Perfected. And we came and said, yeah, how do we then make it suitable for Western ways when an American guy comes in and says, I want a $2 million house. Build one for me in Green Village.
And Ibudku were placed ready for it because they could find a bamboo, harvest it nicely, ethically, bring it to the factory, treat it, right?
Design it, build it with the right artisans, maintain it. Hand it over to the client, maintain it.
One story I have for you.
I arrived and my first job was to bring a client to a completed job.
He was a very well known graphic designer from London, and he commissioned his house remotely. Wow. He bought this land and he said, okay, here it is. Here's X dollars. I'll come back in two years. Wow. And I was there handing the house to him. He's seen pictures of it, but was his first time he's coming.
So I brought him to the site, opened the front door. I had about two months leading of seeing the building being finished. So from the time he got to the front door, open it up and he just says, wow. To the time we went down, he had three buildings to the time we went down to his like lookout, he had seven wows.
That was already, I'm saying I think I'm in the right place. Clients are in awe. In awe about what they get. It's how bamboo can actually affect your feelings.
Ling Yah: Why do you think the wow is coming from? Obviously you've seen the pictures, you've seen everything from start to end.
What was the thing that surprises them even though they've seen the pictures compared to real life?
Ewe Jin Low: You cannot get the same flavor and the same impact from a photo or even from a three D render, a virtual render. You can do the best render you can with an animation. Sometimes it's even better just to show them the model.
When you make models out of bamboo, bamboo on bamboo, the effect is tremendous. I recently made a presentation and we didn't have a three D render. We only had a three D render of how the building looked technically.
We didn't want to have this highway render. I made a bamboo model with a team. A huge bamboo model, a meter by meter, and held it back until the last minute and then presented it.
And wow. The client said, you know, I feel we can dance in this building. And I said, wow. Perfect. I think the feeling of bamboo as a natural material, as an organic material without being processed too much gives that warmth. Gives that feeling that we lose in our environment. We have lost that.
If you think about, let's say where you are now, right? Look at your background. How much of it feel really natural and down to earth? Not much. Not much. Being in a bamboo building helps you because you get that vibe, you get that vibe of nature, security, less harmful. I'm trying to use very simple terms.
I don't wanna use words like sustainable, green, eco. It's bringing you back to the earth, and relating.
Ling Yah: But wouldn't you say that when you build a building like that, it also has to be in the right place. It can be in the middle of kl, for instance. It just wouldn't work the moment you step out.
And you also have to look after the fact that it's not exposed to too much sunlight. It's not exposed to all the water that will congregate if the drainage system isn't done properly. All these different issues.
Ewe Jin Low: Well today I think my work in bamboo not only tries to deliver that romantic and wow feeling. In IBUKU, yes.
On one platform we deliver that. Building luxury houses, bringing bamboo at the top here, right? The zenith of it. In my work today, it's the whole spectrum. When I tried to advocate for bamboo from that luxurious part all the way down. We could have someone wanting a factory from bamboo because steel is too expensive because of the pandemic.
There are people asking for that. And how do you then design something that uses bamboo is as strong as steel. It's cheaper than steel. Looks good in bamboo, but doesn't look like steel. So that is a challenge. One.
Number two, all the way down to the the orang asli in Malaysia, the indigenous tribes, some of my work is actually reintroducing bamboo back to them.
They lost it. They lost it through two, three generations of urbanization. Sometimes they are actually transported away from their village from the jungles or development has reached them. And the bamboo's gone. Their houses are gone. The government houses them in concrete ovens, and they don't live in the ovens during the day.
They built wood and bamboo lean tools around the oven to live night. When it cools down, let's say by 10 maybe it might cool down, they can move into the house for security. This is the challenge. So we try to design bamboo houses to regenerate a bit in their mind to say, Hey, my granddad used to live in that. But hey, this is a modern design.
I think you've used bamboo in a way that I think I can do that as well. I can harvest bamboo, I can start replanting, and we encourage them to start growing and treating and selling bamboo. Yeah. Through the few partners that I work with, I'm trying to do that in Malaysia and in the Philippines where this end of the sector needs developing.
The other part of it I wanted to talk to you about was prefabrication in Bali. Trying to do bamboo in a luxurious way, relies on artisans. The skills that have been embedded through this generations. We cannot take that skill everywhere in countries that have lost that skill, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines. How do you start encouraging bamboo again? Apart from teaching people the skills, fair enough. Some people do that, but we try to do it through. Prefabrication, simplifying the construction. We talk about how to join bamboo without having to make a fish mouth.
A fish mouth is joining bamboo like that, right? Cutting the bamboo such that it fits exactly into it. It might take you two hours or it might take you 10 minutes. Depends on your knife skill. We don't want that on site waiting two days just for someone to carve it. We want to find ways to make the joints direct and simple. To have them built in a factory. Pre-built.
Bring it on site and bang it goes up. That is one of the avenues that I'm looking actively at. Trying to prefabricate.
So it becomes a material that is convenient. Not inconvenient. That is beginning to work in quite a lot of the buildings that I'm doing currently. Simplifying it.
It is about making breakthrough perception on bamboo, right? To a developer, bamboo doesn't last. Do I plant bamboo? Do I buy bamboo? I cannot buy bamboo and bugs eat bamboo. You know, why should I use it? Those are the main questions. Apart from costs, right? Availability.
There's this conversation that I have to have with most potential clients. Bridging this gap, and, and almost educating to say that, hey, You should consider Bamboo. In fact, most developers are. I'm getting approached every two weeks, three weeks from developers in Asia having to pivot because sustainability, that that word is coming at them. They cannot avoid it.
. And they have to figure out how they can build sustainably and maybe even use bamboo. But there's not much around, hence trying to write the book, hence trying to write the second book as well. A lot of bamboo people are figuring out that, yeah, one, one of the ways, best ways is to share.
A big issue with many industries, timber, steel, concrete, in the early years was everyone working in silos.
When timber started, let's say they were trying to build the Oak Theater for William Shakespeare. They only relied on master carpenters, right? They were the gods of the site.
And you rarely could learn from him everything unless he's nearly dying and he tells his assistant. So this thing held back the timber industry for many, many years. But if you look at it now, 2, 3, 400 years on, yes, timber has reached a long way, same as steel, but bamboo cannot take that long to go through that journey, right?
It has to move much faster. And the only way is to share knowledge to work together and to build confidence. And quite a few bamboo people are already realizing that and doing it so that we can speed up this industry.
Ling Yah: You did mention some of the most common questions that always ask, which. I suppose makes sense that we should, might as well just deal with it so people don't leave with those questions through their head.
One of those first things I wanna talk about was actually where do you find the bamboo? There was also a thought I had when you were talking about it because it reminds me of when I was journeying to make my own violin. And obviously you have to go to places like Italy and when you speak to all these artisans who inherited their pieces from their father, grandfather, great-grandfather, they would say, we stand up because the wood, the material we use, we inherited.
And it has been stored and capped for hundreds of years and no one can compare to someone who just went to the woods to cut down and treat. It's just a completely different level. I wonder, obviously Bamboo, you probably haven't harvest sand cap before hundreds of years, but where is the best bamboo that can be found?
You know, how do you think about these things?
Ewe Jin Low: I think I'll answer it this way.
For bamboo to work long term, you need an industry. You need the infrastructure from A to Z. In other words, you need the bamboo to be available so that it can be harvested. You need good harvesters to take it from there, transported to where it's gonna be treated right?
And then you need good factories to treat it ethically, not blitz it with chemicals and toxic stuff. And from there to season it and then to prepare it ready for site.
You need designers that know how to design such that the bamboo is preserved or is protected so that it can last a lifetime. Today there are still designs that are still really crappy and exposes the bamboo really badly.
It looks wonderful and gets 4,000 likes, but, huh? I'm going, oh, what? No way. One of my pet hates is seeing that, and I'm trying to cut that down in the internet, by teaching, making aware.
If you get good designers, fine. You also need good builders. And then you need socialization for your clients first.
If you want a bamboo building, hey, do you know a bamboo building needs to be taken care of? It's not like a concrete building or a steel building. You are working with green stuff here, you're working with organic stuff, not stuff that you dig out from the ground and never can replace and then you last you a hundred years.
So what? Right. So if you wanna use bamboo, yeah. You have to know it is an organic material. It needs maintenance. It needs care like our bodies. And once you have that and a maintenance program, then your building is looking to be more successful. You cannot say, I'm gonna leave it for five years.
No, you have to inspect it.
Ling Yah: What does the maintenance program look like?
Ewe Jin Low: Well, first of all, usually the client's team knows nothing about bamboo. So when you're building, you have to say, I want three of your guys to come and build with us. Learn the ropes. Learn how to build. Learn what's right, what's wrong.
And then from there we will visit regularly with your guys to learn how to maintain it. To look for, oh, this bamboo is cracked. Why is it cracked? Is it because it's too dry and it was harvested? Is it, you know, because it was too much pressure on with bamboo, the good thing is if something happens, even if it's structurally wrong, we don't need to be worrying.
A steel post or beam that goes wrong. Wow. It's a big headache to try and replace it. With bamboo in Bali, sometimes we just put a pole against it, a new pole. We call it sistering or brothering, right. Put a new pole against it, fix it back to the same foundation and you sorted it out. Sometimes we don't. We prop it up. Take the old pole out and put a new one in.
So it is that simple.
Ling Yah: I wonder as well, when you're talking about building in Asia and maintaining as well, you've mentioned before that you can also build these buildings in earthquake zone areas.
I imagine they must be some kind of extra precautions that you must take in order for these buildings to survive in such a place as well.
Ewe Jin Low: I think I answer it in in two ways.
First way is my experience through my own house. We had a Bali earthquake quite near to Bali. It was in Lombok and it was 7.2, which was very big. It lasted for quite a few minutes. And my wife and I were in our house, in our bamboo house upstairs. Watching Netflix strange enough.
And, and the thing, the thing started moving, the screen started moving and said, what's happening? And the building shook the building, shook at least four inches for a few minutes. Could hear it creaking. And I'm starting to get calls from my friends who are in concrete buildings saying, are you out of your house yet?
I said, no, we are still watching Netflix. The thing is moving. But they're saying we are out because our building is starting to crack. They're saying, no, no, we are okay. I mean, my wife was panicking. The dogs were obviously gone crazy. But it lasted for a while and then it stopped and we continued watching.
We didn't realize the impact because when we found out the next day, wow. Buildings were evacuated. A lot of damage in the towns, especially where there was brick and concrete buildings, there was many cracks and checking the bamboo house the next morning, nothing happened. Not even a crack.
It testifies to the fact that, yeah, bamboo has that kind of elasticity to take it. But again, I must qualify that if your joints, when you join bamboo and it's not done correctly, that's where the weaknesses in any building. If your joints are wrong, then in an earthquake it's gonna fail.
Structurally, that's one of the weakest parts. Where walls join to floors, where roofs join to walls. If that is not sorted out and braced laterally, engineers who look at it, then you're in trouble.
Earthquake is one, wind is the other. I work on projects in Fiji where you have to design for cyclone tree winds.
That is 240 kilometers and above, which is a lot of wind. And that experience of designing it says, yeah, wow. You actually have to calculate where the stresses are. Engineer can do that for you from your design, and it shows you all the red parts. Ooh, this part is where the tension is, and your roof is gonna just fly off.
Whoops. And you make the adjustment. You make the adjustment, you let some pressure out from the back of the building, right? The lee of the building, not the wind. And when the wind hits it, oh, it's gonna be released at the back and you strengthen parts of it and reduce it. Anything that looks like a sail is gonna take off.
So things like that you learn. I think that that's the interesting part of it. Bamboo in different parts of the world needs to be seen differently. We talked about where to get the bamboo, what kinds of bamboo, if you don't have that infrastructure, then you are a pioneer.
There are many bamboo pioneers around, thank God for them, that they actually bring bamboo to the front. They take the risks, they push through and find a way to build that first bamboo building, even if it's just a hut.
They dig up a hole in the ground to treat the bamboo in whatever treatment method they use.
And then they build it. They are the ones together with the rest who set up this infrastructure. It is like the timber people and the steel people hundreds of years ago. We are actually in that part of the story where we are pioneering. A lot of this is pioneering. Okay, let's discuss pioneering something.
Let's say there's no major bamboo building in Kuala Lumpur. And how do you go about building one, Even if it's a house. Three story house away from the city or a significant building within the city, let's say an amphitheater or a museum. How do you go about breaking this barrier?
How do you go about convincing the compliance offices that they're gonna approve it. With difficulty. With difficulty. A few of my sort of experience going through that is first, if your country hasn't got bamboo standards, then it's very tough. They're already nine, 10 countries with bamboo standards already established, right?
They're based on i s o standards. So it's back to back and you can get your approval based on that. On structural strength, on bamboo grading, on design. They can approve it based on that. If you don't have it, then it's a bit more difficult. It is persuading them through precedent, right?
Many that have been built it. Say, Hey look, this is a five story house man. We've built it. It is there, it's five years already. Simon Velez, who is one of the pioneers of bamboo architecture, had to build a full size one-to-one sample to convince the authorities, right? He had to build this very pavilion, his beautifully designed building as a sample, as a prototype, built it full scale, tested it then, okay.
They allowed him to build it. That is pioneering. Some of the things in KL, let's say if I wanna build a building, I'll probably have to take the approving authorities on a tour overseas to say, Hey, this is how it's done. I have to show them the standards. have to say, look if you want to build this building, this is five stories I will build a part of it to test it.
I will bring your engineers in together with my engineers to work together to test it such that we know it can take the loads, it can take even an earthquake. It can take certain fire hazards if you like. And this is it. You can approve it, right? Not gonna be easy, but you need to break that barrier.
And this is where I'm at at the moment, trying to break these barrier so that bamboo can move into the mainstream.
Ling Yah: It sounds very much like to convince authorities, you just have to provide successful case studies. I wonder who are the bamboo pioneers that you wouldn't mind giving a shout out to? So people listening would go, oh, I'm really interested.
I wanna learn more. But who are the pioneers? Who are the ones I can look deeper into?
Ewe Jin Low: I give this talk and I, I give the three examples, right? Simon Velez. Simon Velex does a lot of work in Colombia. He's a pioneer from 2000 onwards. Definitely a pioneer in the South Americas and around the world.
There's this architect, a Vietnamese architect, his name is Vo Trong Nghia.
He's also one of the great pioneers in the 2005 onwards. From 10 all the way to now. He built a lot of significant bamboo buildings. Definitely. Definitely they are responsible for bringing bamboo even further up from 2010 onwards. I think the rest will fall into a different category.
Those three are very solid ones that I always turn to. They have broken many barriers. They've set up the bamboo architecture scene very well, and each one has managed to pull out the essence of their region. Very important. The type of bamboo they use. All three use different kinds of bamboo.
Each one has got its own peculiarities and they've combined them. They've made their architecture shout that bamboo. Amazing. Amazing success stories I would say those three.
There's another group in Thailand. Markus, Markus Roselieb, Chiangmai Life Architects. I like his work. He was a doctor. Medical doctor, but he became an architect, a bamboo architect.
And his work I like because he involves communities. He involves refugee communities, uses their skills, and they have become his major builder. And he has built a school, an international school, and built for royalty. All these people I've mentioned, I've tried to show in my book.
It's not a plug for my book, but it's an example of saying, Hey, these are the guys that have done it so well. Here are 30 projects you can see.
Taken off the roof. I've analyzed the structure. You can see the bones of each building. Aspiring architects can learn a lot about that through reading the book. Each one has got the type of bamboo used, a bit of a story, and from there you can get some feeling of how one can go about to build a bamboo building.
It's about the whole process and not just about your skill alone. You are just a, a little part of it for now until the industry is developed, you are just gonna be a little part and coming along like an ant.
Ling Yah: Speaking of schools, I do wanna talk about the green school Bali because that was my personal exposure first to the fact that you can use bamboo to create an entire structure and in this case an entire school with many, many different buildings.
And I was reading your book as well, that the heart of school is what essentially started off bamboo in Bali.
And I wonder if you could just explain to those who, dunno what green school is what it is and how that kicked off the whole bamboo evolution in Bali.
Ewe Jin Low: I think the first name to throw in is Linda Garland. Linda Garland changed the scene. Brought bamboo in because she found a way to treat it right.
She took it from South America, brought it in, and then started treating bamboo. That changed the whole thing. That resulted in the green school being built, starting with just a little classroom. Hole in the ground, some . . Bamboo in it, and then treatment, right? That then made the buildings last longer. The bugs couldn't eat it. And that's the start of green school, a little classroom.
Today, it is probably 60 buildings now. Huge campus. Three other campuses in other countries, right? It is become a, like a brand.
But the original green school is just, wow. When I first went, there is a jaw dropping experience, I think for many people who go there.
Even today when you visit at the right time, when the school is buzzing. Wow, kids running around, right? Of all nationalities, including the Balinese.
They have a five, 10% at least minimum local content that are sponsored around the community. No uniform, no walls. Classrooms are almost borderless. Parents were allowed to move in and out at one stage.
Now they banned the parents. Kids learning about planting rice on the campus. At the stage when I was there, mud wrestling classes, cooking classes. The canteen at that time was meatless. Wow. And all balinese style.
Kids were learning about Balinese martial arts, kite flying. Although the subjects were quite extracurricular, the students still managed to get into Ivy League universities.
When I was there, the first batch from primary all the way through, I think through the 12 years, had already moved. First batch went to university. Quite a few were already pre accepted.
When you say green leaders, this is what I mean by green leaders. Not some of the random green leaders you get in the cities.
These are kids that grew up as a little kid all the way through secondary. Through that green school system organically. Totally convinced by the system. I said, wow, I wish my kids had gone there. I wish I had gone there as a kid. To grow up and study in that realm. Right. Wow.
Amazing. Amazing. Yeah, I have lunch there when I was there for the five years working at Ibudku. I have lunch there most weeks. In fact, two, three times a week. Enjoyed the lunches there and the environment, the vibe, kids swinging on ropes and playing around you and you're having your lunch.
It is just very different.
Ling Yah: I want to bring about the fact that you were also part of constructing the buildings at Green School. You were constructing three primary classes, and this was during the wet season as well. So very, very challenging. What was that like?
Ewe Jin Low: In green school, you can only construct during the holidays, right?
This is like five weeks to seven weeks at the most. Term time you cannot do any major construction. So I was called maybe about a month or two before the holidays by the then, John Hardy, who's the owner of Green School at that time.
Green school is him. It's changed a bit now, but he is almost saying, okay guys, this is it.
In four weeks there's gonna be holidays. You have six weeks. You design and build for me three classrooms on this sloping site, and I want them ready. And we are like, no way. He said, I don't care. And we did it.
We had to design, obviously we had to use an existing design and, and pivoted a bit because we have no way, no way we can do it in time.
Quickly designed it, even started digging the foundations before the design, right. Designing as we go along. Building it and making it true. Obviously it was not complete at the six weeks. We are still building rainy season. Everything was taup over at the end of the day. A lot of damage, obviously with the rain and the foundations, but yeah, many shifts.
Some working late into the night and we managed to make it, managed to make it. The buildings are still standing.
Ling Yah: Thank goodness.
Ewe Jin Low: Yeah. There was a photo of me at it where there was not even any handrails. You had three stories up and the kids were still coming in and we had to make rope because the bamboo wasn't ready.
We had to make a rope balustrade to protect the kids, and we had to put it full height because they started climbing. The kids were just primary, so yeah, it was, stressful, but, it got done. Today you look at it, you say, oh man, what an experience. And it is there. It's there already.
When you look at a building as an architect, you realize quite a lot of things.
But when people see it, yeah, a nice building, but underneath that pyramid of getting that building done, there's a lot of things that happen. And with bamboo as well, if you don't know the dance is very difficult. Very difficult. So my advice would be, as a conventional architect, seek help.
Don't try to say, I can use bamboo. I attended a 10 day course and I'm now a bamboo architect. No, you cannot be a bamboo architect yet, but you can get the help of a bamboo person, right? Bamboo architect takes 10 , 15 years to learn. My experience in bamboo is nine years. I don't even dare to call myself a bamboo architect sometimes.
It's a very sacred term. So yeah, be aware as an architect, you need help. Seek the help.
Ling Yah: Speaking of help, I loved how you described the fact that when you're constructing buildings, and this was also including overseas in Africa and Maldives, that you need a SWAT team of bamboo workers of 10.
I wonder if you could just explain a bit about this SWAT team, because they all have very different skills, right, to bring it all together?
Ewe Jin Low: Yeah. It is strange. This one is fun to describe because in Bali, that's how they work. There's a village called Belaga in Bali near Ubud. A lot of bamboo teams come out of that.
They started being specialized as bamboo builders from crafts. You can go today to the village. You can buy baskets and crafts in bamboo. But the backbone of the village where people earn is also people who build bamboo buildings now, because of the bamboo industry and how they've morphed from two, three people, they've become a squad of 10. Usually nine, 10.
One is the boss, obviously. The rest are good, skilled people that climb the roofs and put the buildings together. They actually earn the most, right? The boss and them. And the lower rung will be those that move the bamboo around, prepare the bamboo, cut the sticks, right.
In Bali, we use bamboo pins for a lot of the connections, the secondary connections. So you need a lot of bamboo pins. So you see them sitting down almost meditatively, making this, this skewers, right? We call them bamboo nails. They'll be doing their singing, smoking, drinking their coffee.
Those are the lower round. And then you get the cooks. Those that go overseas or to other islands, they have to learn how to cook to get the cooks. So these team of 10 have got their own skills. As I say, a SWAT squad, right they come in with their own different skills. And some buildings you need 10 of them. Some you need 20.
Sending them overseas is quite an affair. It was interesting experience because some of the teams, when we first started sending 'em out, had zero experience. Have not even flown on an aircraft.
One of the interesting parts was this guy. He's a cook and like a handyman in the team.
So everyone's ready. We had rehearsals for a few months beforehand. What we do is we build models, right? We build models from them, design model, concept model, and then construction model. So we have this construction model that they take with them to build the building, right? The drawings are almost secondary.
They use a model. They refer to the model for building the building. So this guy was there and we had all the rehearsals of how to do it, stage it, and we said, okay, you're gonna fly right tomorrow. You pack your bags. You have to go to the toilet only when you're allowed to. No smoking.
You have to tell them all the basics. And they all arrive at the airport and we are all there waiting. All the bosses waiting and then up he rocks up, right? Everyone's checked in. He rocks up and he just carrying a plastic bag with this toothbrush and two underwears and one t-shirt. He is going there for nine weeks.
So he is like, ah. And yeah, he just went with that. And one of the weird things is Balinese always have to pray, right? Five times a day. They have to make offerings. And one of the offerings is flowers. They sometimes put flowers, cigarettes, biscuits, whatever. And we said one of the things when you go and build in this resort is don't touch the flowers. 'cause they, they will, they will.
So they did, they did well. That was in Africa. First job was in Africa. We shipped the bamboo.
In those days, shipping was cheap and it was less guilty conscience 'cause no one could calculate whether you had more carbon expanded or not. We shipped our bamboo, we are so worried it's gonna crack.
We wrapped it up nicely, shipped it there, and then sent the workers. That went well. And then the next one is in the Maldives, and the same guy turns up in the airport and we're like, oh no. And he brought a case. So he was okay.
Ling Yah: He learned this lesson.
Ewe Jin Low: Yeah. This team has now gone all over the place.
They just came back from India. They spent almost a year in India building many buildings. And Wow. You know, I brought five of them to KL to build one of my demonstration pavilions at APW
one of the highlights for them was going on the M R T. They were like, wow, thank you, thank you.
Lang, my wife brought them, insisted we bring them and they're like, wow. So thankful and looking at the Twin Towers. So glad that I can be part of this journey to see these guys from just being in Bali little Village to going all around the world to use their skills. To transfer their skills. In India especially, they transfer a lot of their skills.
I'm hoping to take them to India again with another group and maybe in the Philippines, right, where they, they can actually share their knowledge.
Ling Yah: You spoke about shipping, that sense of guilt. How would you define green architecture first and to what extent can you say that bamboo architecture is green?
I ask this question because thankfully my sister's an AA graduate, not me. So she basically said, you should ask him if you are infilling bamboo in order to use it with something like steel bolts, paste, then wouldn't they make it a formwork instead of an integral part of the structure? And would that steel qualify as bamboo architecture?
Is it even green architecture? How do you think about those things?
Ewe Jin Low: I'll probably answer it more from my point of view instead of as an industry. Today, if you give me a commission to say, I wanna ship bamboo halfway around the world to build something nice, I'll say why. Why? And how much carbon is gonna cost me.
Our ideal project would be, yes, I wanna build bamboo in India, let's say. I have inquiry lately to build in India. So my first question is, is there bamboo in India near your site and how far away. Number one.
Number two, does anyone treat it? If not, can we bring in our material to treat it for you and then build it? That would be ideal.
And third, you have any local skills? If you have, let's use that. Let's find out if there's any bamboo being built and look back a bit in the history to see and use that as a platform to then design your building. That would be the first choice. Without even bringing in workers or anyone.
The next stage is yes, if you need help and we are gonna transfer this skill for you so that in future you are gonna build right with the bamboo you have and you learn. Yes, I will do that because it's gonna help them in the future.
The next skill is to say, okay, you have bamboo, you don't have skills.
Let me show you how to prefabricate. I'll Bring some people, you bring your team, let's prefabricate bring it to the site, plunk it on, and it's built within a few days. I think that sort of signifies green thinking or earth thinking, right? I think green is a dirty term anyway. Earth thinking or or earth friendly thinking.
Yeah, any of those kind of approaches would be good. I get queries from many different countries and different developers wanting to do it as well. It's hard to be green or earth friendly because many developers have moved in a conventional way and it's gonna take a while before they actually realize, oh, I have to find a different way.
Right. And the best way I suppose, is compliance. When governments get a bit hard on them and say, yeah, every year I want you to do 10% of it or whatever. Right? Then they have to do it. Some developers are coming to me because of that. Say, oh, we have to make this comply. Then I say to them okay, first have you got the heart ?
I don't say directly, but I say, look, you first have to have that heart to use bamboo first or any earth-friendly materials, right? You don't use them because you have to. Then you don't have that genuine interest. It is very hard then for me to work with you ' cause you'll always be thinking conventionally when there's this clash again.
So I always seek out Developers or clients that already know and have educated themselves on bamboo. That helps me half the way. Right?
I wanna use bamboo because I already know it is renewable. It is earth friendly. One clump can last a hundred years. If you cut one pole down, another one comes up the next wet season, sometimes two.
So you know, it is renewable. It grows so fast, right? And if you use it right, wow, you get good results. If you wanna push bamboo to become steel, timber, or concrete, forget it. You cannot do it and it'll look wrong. That's how I move. Bamboo has to look like bamboo and feel like bamboo.
When you look at the design, you have to say, yes, this is bamboo building. This is not bamboo trying to pretend to be steel or timber. That's a very basic sort of principle for me. How I work.
Ling Yah: One of the big questions when you think about how to basically make it a lot more common apart from government mandating, it is really just money.
The clients will always go, well, how much is gonna cost me? Because that's the ultimate question. So how much does one cost as compared to a conventionally built building?
Is it cheaper? I mean, especially when considering the fact that most bamboo buildings, you don't have walls, you don't have your conventional doors, et cetera.
If you wanna build those, you need to put in more material that costs even more. And all this material, again, it's not like it's a cookie cutter. You'll have a hundred pieces that look exactly the same. They just aren't gonna appear that way.
Ewe Jin Low: Nowadays I don't go through that dance with the clients anymore.
I'll just say, look, it's either gonna cost the same or more and that turns away 80% of clients, because they don't ask the next question. Fine for me at this stage, I'm okay. Once they say okay, I I wanna know further, then I go on further. Before I used to answer, okay, what building are you looking at?
Because certain buildings it will be cheaper. Certain buildings you'll be the same, certain will be more. If you're looking at a little hut with no walls and a roof, simple bamboo roof, everything's fine. Yeah, you can probably get it cheaper if all the conditions are right. Yeah. There's so many scenarios and ifs and buts, but yeah, you can get it cheaper.
If you're looking at, let's say, the same house that I have. A one bedroom house with no walls. Yeah, it is, the price is not gonna be that expensive. But if you're looking at trying to put windows in. Air conditioning and you want a hermetically sealed building, that's not gonna happen. Because in Bamboo it does this right?
It's wavering, it's tapering. It is an organic material. Don't expect it to perform like a sealed apartment block. In my house, the mosquitoes come in. The flies come in. The ants come in. The frogs come in. The lizards obviously are our pets. There are two pet lizards in our house, huge ones. Snakes come and visit you, right?
That's why you have dogs. Again, if you want to live organically, you have to accept what comes in. That you're not in a sterile environment because you are invading your space. You're living in their space. If you cannot accept that, then yeah, by all means, condominium, apartment, gated community, manicured lawns.
Ling Yah: That's fair. It sounds as though it's gonna be very hard to get, say, the average client to start building full on bamboo houses unless they're willing to accept the fact that it's gonna cost just the same, if not even more. And you're gonna be really, really living in nature and forgo your modern day comforts that you're very used to.
Ewe Jin Low: Okay. A couple ways to answer it. I think first answer would be, yeah, you're not gonna get terrace bamboo houses in Subang Jaya, in kl, right? You're not gonna get like a housing estate of bamboo straight away, Especially full count bamboo, meaning poles. Right.
I think when bamboo gets processed into boards, into beams and columns, right? When you say you laminate bamboo, you process bamboo. That can happen. I think that will happen.
Like timber. Timber is getting built at 30 stories, 40 stories cross laminated timber that's been processed. My question is, how much energy is expanded when you process this bamboo? How much gunk goes into the bamboo to make it what it is?
Is that viable? I think it's gonna go ahead anyway and there will be an industry for it, but I think my part at the moment I'm playing is with natural bamboo poles, trying to use them where they are. Obviously limited, limited in scope, but there is scope for it and there are applications where we can use it, almost guilt free, in place of steel.
In place of timber. We are talking about things like installations, sculpture installations, viewing points, park buildings, temporary buildings as a start. Houses that are away from the city. Your weekend house, your farmhouse that doesn't need to be too compliant. All that can be done from bamboo and maybe from five kilometers away instead of shipping steel from the city, from China or from wherever, right?
All the steel now doesn't come in the same country. It comes from far away in a container. I'm looking at those pockets of how it works, and then occasionally you get a project of someone saying, I want a building in the center of Manila, in McCarthy. I want this significant building to change the mindset.
Wow. Right. That is a game changer and that is when the challenge comes in for me, it sort of really turns me on and wakes me up. And that's where I'm thinking, wow, this is what I've been looking for and can play a good role. That's when I can push that agenda forward.
Ling Yah: What do you think the future holds? Assuming that Bamboo is going to continue becoming even more mainstream then is. Do you think we are looking at things like construction bamboo forests to scale this up?
Ewe Jin Low: It is hard. It is hard to monocrop bamboo. The romantic side of it is that I've got hectares and hectares of it, and it's gonna become a production line.
We don't know how successful it is gonna become. There's not much testing yet. There are people that have grown five years ago, only now the bamboo is being harvested. We don't know how strong the bamboo is. Right. I'm waiting for more evidence of it. It'll be great to have the plantations. I think in China they're doing a lot of good work because they need it for their flooring.
But all that will help to bring it into the mainstream, will help as a material. No doubt . You look into any supermarket or any store now, you can see bamboo everywhere, right? From chopsticks all the way to cutting boards, to shelves. All that is coming in as a material. Happy because it's renewable.
You're not cutting a tree that's been growing for 40 years. You're cutting something that will regenerate, which is good. Good for the earth.
It's only how much gunk you put in it, how much energy you spend to make that product you have that I question. I think yes, there will be bamboo plantations that will be very, very big scale in future because bamboo grows and everywhere.
There are steps for people to experiment now to use bamboo as land renewal. Right? In other words, if you plant it, it helps, with other crops to renew land, especially ex mining land, That's possible. How we work today is actually growing bamboo in pockets within the jungle, like what it used to be.
The scale is small, admittedly. You teach the orang asli to plant sustainably. Bamboo loves river valleys loves areas of well drained soil. You can even use it to prevent landslides. And if they grow it well, they can harvest and they can continue this industry.
So small scale, small scale, you don't have to grow too big. And I like working in that kind of scale.
Ling Yah: Just before we wrap up, two questions from two different people. One from Heidi Wenger relates to where you're working at now, your own firm, 10 10 Design.
The question is, if you design small homes featuring bamboo or just large scale projects because she's interested in a bamboo structure as off grid as possible.
Ewe Jin Low: Yes. Thank you for your question, Heidi. I saw it as well. And yeah, as mentioned, I work on the full scale from a small building to a large building. I think off grid is very challenging. Again, many factors.
One is where are you? Second is, is there bamboo, as I said, right. Third is if you can get it treated.
If not, we can help you to get treated. I'll message you and let's talk, I think interested, interested to see and I know you have a strong presence online and in LinkedIn as well, so I'll be in touch. Thank you.
Ling Yah: Fantastic. And we have a second question. I will play his question for you.
Hi Eugene. Hi Ling Yah.
My name is Samuel. I'm a fellow Malaysian interested in sustainable development. I want to know, Ewe Jin, what are your thoughts on what gets in the way of Malaysia adapting sustainable architecture or sustainable living development to consumer markets here? And do you have an opinion on what are some steps we could take to do that?
Ewe Jin Low: one of the ways yeah, is promoting bamboo. There's a festival coming up, Langkawi Bamboo Festival in November. I'm involved in that to help to promote bamboo there in a big way. There's a big panel of people coming to talk about bamboo. They have musicals, they have a bamboo run, they have exhibitions.
I would say the first thing to do is go to that festival, spend a few days there and immerse yourself. There's a lot of information there. So yeah, through exhibitions, through festivals is good. That is the whole spectrum for bamboo that you can see.
I think in terms of building, getting bamboo buildings into Malaysia and setting up the industry the famous phrase, build it and they will come. In Bali, the green school establish this thing, right? That people say, yeah, I want something like that.
KL needs a major bamboo building. A major sponsor that can say, yeah, I want it. Let's do it. Let's find a way to do it. And if you have that building built, stands up well, people like it, KL being KL Malaysia, it'll take off tremendously. All you need is that first building, and I hope that, it can happen soon.
In the Philippines that is how it happened. There was one building that was built for the sea games and that triggered off a lot of interests from architects.
Architects began pushing. It's now got its own standards in the Philippines. It's got many organizations, got bamboo factories that are treating bamboo and selling them. I'm actively working there as well with a few projects and it shows how from nothing, in terms of bamboo industry, it is built up tremendously. Very fast within the three years and is growing like that.
And so encouraging to see, and that's gonna happen to Malaysia. It's only a matter of time. I hope I'm there still playing actively when it happens.
Ling Yah: Ewe Jin, such a pleasure to have had you. I always end my interviews with the same questions. So the first is this, do you feel that you have found your why?
Ewe Jin Low: I think coming into Bamboo late in my career, in my fourth quarter when I'm supposed to be playing chess or learning Tai Chi, bamboo, yeah, sort of invigorated me and set me on this journey, sort of given me a new perspective, a new life.
It still consumes me. I'd say apart from exercising and keeping fit, it takes up at least 60% of my day somehow and continues to take up more.
I feel very fortunate to have gone into Bamboo and that I thank Ibuku for accepting me and for giving me this immersion that has set me off into this journey and continues to encourage me in different fields of bamboo. It has motivated me to look outwards. Not think about what Bamboo can do for me, but trying to then move bamboo as an advocate.
Trying to write a bit more from my experience. I've designed and built a lot of bamboo buildings, and I think the next book, which I'm working on now is going to put some of that into print to share.
Especially to universities, to architects, to developers who want to design and build in Bamboo can then have that.
There's not much available in terms of bamboo paraphernalia and books and guidebooks. It's all disparate, right? All broken up. The information and bamboo people please put together your experience and share.
So yeah, fortunate to be in Bamboo and hope that I can keep going and building together with the rest of the Bamboo people building up this industry.
Ling Yah: I imagine if anyone's interested, they can just apply to 10 10 design as well.
Ewe Jin Low: Yeah, just message me on better Bamboo Buildings, if you like, at better bamboo buildings on Instagram. I think that'll be the easiest way. Just message me and we'll be in touch.
Ling Yah: What kind of legacy do you wanna leave behind?
Ewe Jin Low: I've managed to play a little part in the way Bamboo has moved. It is a really niche sector at the moment, but before I sign off, I like to see it grow and be happy just to say, oh, I've helped pull this truck along. And it is, move from here and become a bigger truck. That's all I wanna say.
No big deal. Glad to play a part.
Ling Yah: What do you think are the most important qualities of a successful person?
Ewe Jin Low: I think being gracious is a big quality in today's world of I wanna move forward. This is who I am, this is what I do.
Having that skill to pause and show grace in any situation is important. Bringing together people and finding ways of joy, right? Finding ways of joy. Not complaining, but trying to get joy into life. That's missing a lot in today's environment. There's a lot of purpose. There's a lot of searching or grabbing, but the joy and the love still has to be there and that has to be wrapped with grace.
Ling Yah: And where else can people find you apart from Better Bamboo Buildings?
Ewe Jin Low: That is the main source. Through that, we have a good website. We have many articles on Bamboo. We have more than 30 articles now. 10 10 Design is a vehicle that we use, so yeah, come through, connect with me on that.
On Facebook, Ewe Jin Low.
Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 128.
The show notes and transcript can be found at www.sothisismywhy.com/128.
And stay tuned for next Sunday because we will be meeting the founder of Secret Cinema, an organization from the UK that takes well known movies like Moulin Rouge and Star Wars and turns them into reality where you, the participant, can become a part of the movie and experience it in a whole other way.
It's one thing to watch an epic show on the screen, then watch it live on stage. But for you, the participant to be an active character in the movie as it unfolds around you, that is a whole other story and one that this next guest successfully built into a massive global movement. So if you're interested in learning more about what it takes to build a movement and build a community, do subscribe to this podcast and see you next Sunday.