Phnom Penh studio Atelier COLE unveiled their latest eco-friendly project in Southeast Asia: Bamboo Trees, a rainwater-collecting structure built out of locally sourced bamboo, rope, and palm leaves. Built for the nonprofit Free the Bears, the building serves as a fundraising merchandise store and educational center for tourists to Laos’ Tat Kuang Si Park. Atelier COLE collaborated with the Building Trust to organize the project’s Design + Build workshop.
The nonprofit Free the Bears was founded to combat the illegal trade of bears—mostly Asiatic Black Bears (Moon Bears)—and provide safe sanctuary for rescued bears at the Tat Kuang Si Rescue Center. Atelier COLE’s Bamboo Trees will help fund Free the Bears’ efforts through the sale of merchandise and donations. As with all Building Trust projects, this building was created with the input of local communities, including the Khmu who contributed their construction skills.
The bamboo structure features fluted canopies that flare outwards to shade the deck and collect rainwater, which is funneled through the gravel-filled foundation footings. The roof was constructed using local Khmu skills including bamboo weaving, palm thatching, and rattan weaving. A rope spirals around and weaves together the bamboo elements, creating tensegrity.
“This was not about wrapping a steel structure in bamboo or squeezing pieces of bamboo together to use like timber,” says David Cole, Principal of Atelier COLE. “We wanted to explore the tensile properties of the material to bend it and use it in a way that compliments its structural characteristics. We did not stray far from how the plant grows and how it has been used for centuries in basketry and weaving by the local people who were instrumental in the design and construction.”