Faith Gowen ’23: Bamboo University: Sustainable Craft in Indonesia

Summer 2022

About the Program

The “Bamboo U” workshop is an 11-day intensive program designed to welcome designers, engineers, and sustainability advocates to experience and learn about the potential of bamboo firsthand. Its mission is to provide the model-making techniques, carpentry skills, and design principles for participants to create with bamboo, as well as gain insights on ways to incorporate the power of sustainability in their communities. Located in Bali, Indonesia, participants learn directly from expert local craftsmen, discuss cutting-edge research with global leaders in sustainability, and leave with detailed knowledge on bamboo’s life cycle and properties. The award funding went towards the cost of the workshop, which included all discussions, materials, tours, lectures, meals and accommodation.

My goal for attending such an intensive program was to immerse myself in the natural environment of bamboo and directly learn from Indonesian culture. At the workshop, people of all backgrounds arrived with the same desire: to find sustainable ways to design and build. For some, that will mean using bamboo directly, and for others, it means taking the principles we learned and transforming them to work for technology, architecture, design, and so on.

As a computer science and visual art major, my studies are interdisciplinary, and I’ve found that it’s increasingly important that neither our art nor our technical creations detract from the environment. At Bamboo U, I was able to work closely with multidisciplinary leaders, which ultimately allowed me to understand a wider array of sustainable practices. The experience also allowed me to understand how culture affects priorities within spatial design, such as maintaining fluidity between what is considered the “outside (nature)” and “inside (space)” of a building.

I spent the first half of the program attending lectures on traditional and experimental practices in bamboo craft from around the world. Participating in discussions allowed me to further uncover how technology can be used to bolster art in a conscious way. During the latter half, I ideated, constructed, and presented a functional art piece, raised a 15-foot-tall collapsible bamboo structure, and learned skills directly guided by local craftsmen (and did it their way: no shoes). Through the Benenson, I’ve been able to connect my desire to art, technology, and sustainability in an unforgettably hands-on way.

What changes did you notice in your summer experience due to COVID-19?

Due to COVID, it was difficult to find immersive ways to understand the impact of sustainability on art and design at a large scale. Through the Benenson, I was able to prioritize learning how to enhance my craft in an environmentally-conscious way. In person, I experienced the life cycle of the materials we use to craft with, and connected with the very farmers and designers who are making this practice possible. It has expanded my perspective and skillset, allowed me to learn more about the priorities of a different culture and country, and given me a global community to connect with amidst our efforts to make our fields more sustainable.