Earl Forlales, in search of innovative ways to design sustainable houses, opted to turn and look to the past rather than the future.

Bamboo leaf canopy
(Photo : Photo by kazuend on Unsplash)

Construction Industry Under Scrutiny

In recent years, the building sector has been harshly chastised for its environmental effect. Steel and concrete use contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions while mining raw resources such as stone, rock, and gravel destroys landscapes and soils. This has triggered a hunt for more environmentally friendly options.

Bahay Kubo

Bahay Kubo
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

Earl's grandparents lived in a "Bahay Kubo," a classic, boxy, single-story bamboo cottage on stilts native to the Philippines, as did generations of Filipinos. "Filipinos have been utilizing bamboo (for houses) for thousands of years, even before colonial times," he explains.

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Bamboo

Bamboo is one of the world's fastest-growing plants: whereas soft and hard woods might take anywhere from 40 to 150 years to mature, bamboo can be harvested in as little as three years. It may live for decades if adequately handled and designed. Forlales began creating his own bamboo houses after realizing that the Bahay Kubo could be altered to create a modern residence.

Concept to Practice

After winning the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' "Cities for our Future" contest in 2018, the materials engineering graduate converted his idea into a business, co-founding Cubo in 2019.

In November 2020, the firm began producing prefabricated houses. According to Forlales, the buildings can be put together in only a few days and are expected to endure up to 50 years. Cubo's modular designs and utilization of bamboo, he thinks, will "assist in the acceleration of sustainable building" while also providing inexpensive housing solutions to the Philippines' housing issue.

Cubo Houses

Cubo's bamboo houses have a raised base and louvers, a sort of window blind that permits natural air and light, just like the traditional "Bahay Kubo."

Because the Philippines is prone to earthquakes and typhoons, the houses were built to withstand natural calamities. The structures are further strengthened with poured concrete foundations, which replace the usual stilts, and metal "typhoon links" are employed to connect the walls, roof, and floor panels. Concrete contributes to climate change while providing a sturdy foundation for construction. The firm is "exploring various foundation methods to further make our solution more sustainable," according to Forlales, although this is still in the research stage.

Tested by Earthquakes

The company's first project was put to the test quickly: the region was struck by a magnitude six earthquake just days after the first two residences were completed in December 2020. Cubo's residences were unharmed.

Cubo has four distinct variants that can accommodate up to six people. Each home is built to order and may be modified to incorporate solar panels on the roof, significantly lowering the occupants' operating expenses and carbon footprint.

Currently, the firm is manufacturing six houses each month, but Forlales claims that demand is significantly greater and hopes to boost supply.

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