Base builds - constructing with bamboo

Manila, Philippines

Affordable housing is one of the focus areas in the project portfolio of the Hilti Foundation. Sustainability, efficiency, innovation and direct involvement of our beneficiaries to improve their living conditions through their own efforts are the key principles of our work.

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One of the projects in this area is Base Bahay, a bamboo construction initiative founded in 2013. This project aims to counter the housing shortage in the Philippines, where approximately 1.5 million households lack affordable homes. Bamboo is an ideal solution: the material is much eco-friendlier than steel and concrete, and the houses tend to have much greater resistance to natural disasters, such as earthquakes and typhoons. In addition, Base Bahay also creates jobs for the local population. Here are a few impressions of the project.

Fast growing resource
Nothing on earth grows faster than bamboo. This plant has more than 1,600 species, several of which can grow as much as three meters a day. The bamboo stem hardens over time and after a period of three to five years, it has achieved a level of resistance that rivals that of hardwoods. Bamboo stalks are almost unbreakable, flexible, weather-resistant and lightweight and hollow. All these characteristics makes Bamboo the ideal insulating material.

This all works for those area, where Bamboo thrives best: in tropical and subtropical climates. where it can enjoy plenty of warmth, light, rain and nourishment to help it grow tall and strong. In tests the bamboo-houses endured typhoons – concrete houses however, collapsed.

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Bamboo creates work
Johnny Deguzmann used to pass the Bamboo plant carless, without giving it a second thought. It grows as wild in the Philippines as stinging-nettle around here. Now the plant is providing him with work and some extra money. Five to six times striking out with his machete is necessary, until the Bamboo falls onto the ground. An agricultural worker like Johnny harvests several dozen bamboo stalks a day.

Uniformity is essential. In a close by factory, the bamboo stalks are capped to a height of 2.40 meters and stained. A drill through the stem enables to inject the wood preservative. This treatment is essential to protect the material against insects and mold. Put in a wooden framework and they are ready to use as a housing wall later.

Poor people’s wood?
Carpenter Hazem Fadrigo manages the construction site in the Iloilo settlement. When he first heard that the houses would be built of bamboo, he thought: ‘That’s not going to work.’ In the Philippines, bamboo is considered the ‘poor people’s wood’ and anyone who can afford it builds houses from concrete. But Fadrigo’s opinion has changed: ‘European engineering quality combined with the traditional Philippine building material, this combination is the best of both worlds!’ says the tradesman.

Although many Filipinos have a roof over their heads, neither the house nor the land belongs to them. They are often threatened with eviction, which means that they and their children must live literally on the streets.

Communities of hope
Iloilo is an hour’s flight from Manila and has approximately 600’000 residents, a quarter of whom live in slums. Partnerships with local institutions are crucial for the acceptance of a project on site. Base Bahay collaborates with, among others, the Homeless People’s Federation of the Philippines, a self-help organization for people who do not have a permanent residence. To date, about 70,000 people have benefited from the organization’s help.

Two girls observe the construction of a new house, where they will soon live together with their family. To own a house means to have a home and provides an atmosphere of safety and comfort for parents and their children.

Currently, about 50 bamboo houses are being built on the outskirts of Iloilo. Base Bahay was the only organization to decide that the poor should enjoy the same safety standards as the wealthy.

A better future
The bamboo houses are generally single-story, small and simple. Bamboo stalks are visible only from inside the house, the outside is plastered. They cost roughly €5,000, of which the residents must make a down payment of about €300. The remainder is paid off over time, with donations helping to finance part of the cost.

The new owners receive a deed that allows them to register with the police and apply for an electricity supply. The ability to provide a real address is life-changing for most families, as it marks the start of social advancement into a society.

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A happy ending for the Dural family

This dream recently has become true for the family Dural. They just moved into a bamboo house on the edge of the city, in a green valley nearby. It may not be that big, say the parents, but it’s their own house. To them, this represents a dream come true and the hope that their daughters will have a better life.

Family Dural can hardly believe her good luck. ‘We are really happy and eternally grateful,’ says the young mother. Her family was among the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, which stormed across the island in 2013.

Today, the Durals live in a bamboo settlement near the city of Tacloban. The settlement’s name is Community of Hope and it consists of about 60 bamboo houses painted in pastel colors. The Durals’ house, number 12, is purple and the family is visibly happy with the light-filled, airy rooms. The settlement sits in a green valley surrounded by gently rolling hills.

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World’s capitol of the homeless
There is no place on earth with a greater need for decent housing than Manila. The capitol of the Philippines and at the same time the world-capitol of homelessness. Approximately five million men, women and children sleep under bridges, creep under plastic canvas or dwell in poor huts.

The family of Rebecca Bargan lives in Patayas, Manilas largest slum. It is hot and muggy in the dark barrack, three persons share one small room. Water leaks through the roof whenever it rains and the walls threaten to collapse in a storm. Any loud noises in the night could herald the approach of the police. ‘Our sincerest wish is to have our own, sturdy house,’ says Rebecca.

She is now one step closer to this dream. When she heard that a small settlement of bamboo houses was being built at the edge of the slums, she immediately applied to buy one. We hope, that the dream of a house comes true for many Philippine families such as the Durals and Bargans.