Wambamboo travels to China

December 16, 2010

Australian designer Kent Gration takes on the unlikely challenge of promoting the value of bamboo to the Asia Pacific region.

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 Premier’s 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 bamboo’s 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to product design students about the modern applications of bamboo, and how its lack-lustre connotation has been superseded in western countries by its re-birth within a range of applications, driven largely by its material potential and environmental benefits.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-man’s 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 Lee’s 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 Australia’s 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.


  • Anne Astorino February 15th, 2011 3:24 am

    Having read Kent’s comments above regarding the many and varied uses for bamboo, it still bothers me that our state and federal governments have not as yet (to my knowledge) become partners with INBAR, to promote the growing of bamboo here in Australia, making use of the vast data bases held by INBAR.
    We have the perfect climate for growing a number of Bamboo species that can be converted to board. We have suffered from fires, droughts and floods. Soil erosion and loss of timber plantations all up the Eastern seaboard, has put ever increasing pressure on timber supplies. We have tobacco growing communities in Victoria whom can no longer grow tobacco, but could adapt so easily to growing Bamboo.
    Carbon credits could be purchased from Bamboo plantation owners.
    New manufacturing opportunties, not to mention the canning of fresh bamboo shoot, and ultimate export back to China and other Asian countries in their ‘off’ seasons.
    We have to get onto this!


Leave a Reply

Sign up to Australian Design Review's Newsletter

Receive the latest:

  • news, insights, opinions from the interior design and architecture community
  • coverage on latest projects, videos and new products updates
  • events and job listings.

Sign up now!

Sign up to the newsletter