- Article by Online Editor
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Is extolling the environmental benefits, cultural significance and modern application of bamboo in China akin to selling ice to the eskimos? On a recent trip to Hong Kong and China as part of the 2010 Queensland Premiers Emerging Design Leader Award, I discovered how the surge in the use of bamboo in western countries is having an innovation-led, knock-on effect in the Asia Pacific region, giving the industry a much-needed endorsement from the international market.
Earlier this year I was fortunate to be presented with the inaugural Emerging Design Leader Award in recognition of my achievements in, and commitment to, promoting bamboo as an environmentally aware material through the award-winning Wambamboo furniture range. Designed to fuse elegant design with a functional, everyday material, Wambamboo promotes bamboos versatility as a natural material as well as its environmental credentials. Bamboo is a rapidly renewable natural resource; quick and easy to produce, it also provides an invaluable link between Australia and the Asia Pacific. My desire to further develop an Australian/Chinese cultural exchange by engaging with environmentally aware designers and bamboo producing companies was also instrumental to my success in winning the award.
The first stop on the two-week itinerary was Hong Kong Polytechnic University, guest lecturing to product design students about the modern applications of bamboo, and how its lack-lustre connotation has been superseded in western countries by its re-birth within a range of applications, driven largely by its material potential and environmental benefits. Their lecturer, Professor Yanta Lam who has researched the modernisation of bamboo is working with fellow university lecturers to introduce the students to the possibilities of bamboo and rattan. The team is working to dispel the widespread belief that both of these are the poor-mans materials, endemically used in scaffolding throughout Hong Kong.
Moving on to Shanghai, I passed through the vast World Expo 2010, where I was struck by the architectural brilliance and dynamism of the Australian, UK, Danish and Spanish Pavilions. While in Shanghai, I was also fortunate enough to be invited to a Trade Queensland Sustainability in Design Lunch, where architects, engineers, and a host of delegates from the Chinese design community met to network and develop design-led opportunities. Given the enormous scale of development within China, our geographical proximity makes Australia instrumental in providing know-how and services that will ultimately contribute to China’s ability to reduce its massive carbon footprint.
My visit to Shanghai also coincided with the INBAR (International Network of Bamboo and Rattan) awards night hosted at the Madrid Pavilion, where discussions about the possibilities of advancing bamboo applications and commericalisation in developing nations showed some significant interest in wide-spread use of this versatile and environmental material.
Other highlights included a trip to Hangzhou via high-speed train at 350km/ph and a visit to Anji and its bamboo forest a vast series of valleys draped in bamboo plantations, made famous in Ang Lees film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. On the return leg to Shanghai, I visited the factories of DMVP bamboo + Dasso in Hangzhou both of whom produce bamboo products for global companies such as BMW (dashboards/interior panelling), Dell (computer cases), Microsoft (workstations) and K2 (veneers for rollerblades and skis).
My final few days were dedicated to exhibiting the Constellation Light series from the Wambamboo range at 100% Futures/Design Shanghai. The design, which originally premiered at the State Library of Queensland as part of the Unlimited Asia Pacific Design Triennial, features a sequence of interlocking bamboo components. The piece, originally inspired by Australias geographical isolation and the challenge of forging international collaboration, was met with positive interest in the design and material use, promising a bright future for the use of this renewable and stylish material.
The trip provided many diverse and important cultural, professional and design-focused experiences with insights into China’s social and environmental challenges in the future, and its ability to address those issues that will require massive change. It also allowed me to reflect on the quality of life we take for granted here in Australia, our extraordinary level of multiculturalism and the fact that we can really only fully appreciate these aspects once we have travelled overseas.