The Green School

Deep within the jungles of Bali, a school made entirely of bamboo seeks to train the next generations of leaders in sustainability.


Architecture / Caroline James

In a swath of jungle near Ubud, Bali, the Green School has just finished the second year of operation. The gong announces the beginning of class, where students learn in bamboo pavilions without walls. A hen and two chicks scuttle across the earth floor of the ampitheatre. The staff has just cleared the remaining banana-leaf plates used to serve the organic lunch. In a groundup approach, all of the campus structures, 30 and counting, are handcrafted from bamboo, connecting the design to the pedagogical core of the school.

American Cynthia and her partner, Canadian designer John Hardy, have lived on Bali for over thirty years. In 2007, after selling their renowned jewelry company, they formed a school as an alternative to the walled-in international schools around Bali. Based upon the 19thcentury education model of Rudolf Steiner, which emphasizes experiential learning, the Green School aims to educate future leaders in sustainability. This year, the school enrols nearly 200 students, from nursery school to Grade Twelve.

In making the school, John Hardy did not turn to the international architecture competition circuit. Instead he hired an eclectic team of designers and artists, as well as architects who specialize in bamboo.
The late Aldo Landwehr, a Swiss sculptor who was based in Bali, became the first design director. Hardy sketched the masterplan and established the company now known as PT Bamboo Pure to design, build and furnish the school.

This school’s structure was built with three different types of bamboo: Petung, Tali and Duri. The roofs are covered for the most part with bundles of Alang Alang grass. The walls are made of bamboo, clay, mud and cotton

Early experiments in furniture taught the design team how bamboo performs. For example, bamboo can be divided with a lateral or cross-sectional cut, producing different structural traits. In 2007, they built the first campus structure, the Kul-Kul Bridge that spans 22 meters across the Ayung River. The organic convex and concave curves are partially ornamental, however they follow the natural tendencies of bamboo to bend and twist. The simplicity of construction enables even the layman to understand how the pieces join together. Thus, a stroll around campus is an interactive lesson in building.
Visiting the Green School is to enter an entire aesthetic universe, where the architecture is as important as the most minuscule of details. Bamboo signage leads the way around to each class area that consists of a bamboo pavilion with Alang Alang grass roof, bamboo desks and chairs and compost toilets. Students learn music upon bamboo harps and play sports within bamboo fences.

View of the “Heart of School”. Composed of a double ellipse, it contains the core of the school. Three staircases ascend to the upper floors, wrapping around the structural elements

Admissions director Ben Macrory describes the school as a "living laboratory" where the students learn about river ecology, grow rice and even build their own bamboo structures. There is a breeding program on campus for an endangered bird species, the Bali Rothschild Starling. While learning without walls would seem to cause disciplinary problems, Cynthia classifies the school as "ADDfriendly". Dyslexic children who arrive at Green School are, within a week, focused and comfortable within "the chaos of nature".
In many ways, the growth of the Green School resonates more along a vernacular tradition than the formal architectural canon. As described in "Architecture without Architects", Bernard Rudofsky's exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, humans traditionally sought challenging sites that create "exhilaration generated by superb landscape". The Green School is built upon steep terrains, so the architecture is a part of, not apart from the context. The overall plan instigates a sense of exploration and cohabitation with nature.

The Green School is built upon steep terrains, so the architecture is a part of, not apart from the context

With the mission to create "global citizens", the Green School makes an architecture that symbolises the philosophy and pedagogy. The most elaborate structure is the impressive "Heart of the School", with three interweaving cones that resemble double helixes. Three spiral staircases link the floors that house the administration, computer lab, arts spaces and the library. Built from Petung, the most massive bamboo variety, the complex is 60 meters long and soars 19 meters into the sky. Every prominent visitor, such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, passes under the alangalang vaults. This pantheon of bamboo imparts the seriousness of the school's agenda.

Within the restrictions of bamboo, variations of form flourish. In his Essay on Architecture, Marc-Antoine Laugier speculates how the foundation for all architecture relates to the first shelter, made by spanning tree trunks and fallen tree branches. The frontispiece is an etching in which a goddess of architecture gestures toward the truthful structure. "By imitating nature, art was born", Laugier declares. Along a similar vein, the design of the Green School inspires a culture of localised creativity, as opposed to high-tech fabrication. As a craftsman builds upon a few basic techniques and then grows them into infinite variations, the construction of the Green School is akin to the hand weaving of a textile, uniform in the material, yet elaborate in composition.

Green School
Bali, Indonesia

Architects: PT Bamboo Pure
Design team: John Hardy (owner and inspirator); Aldo Landwehr (creative director), Cheong Yew Kuan, Effan Adhiwira, Miya Buxton, Hanno Burtscher, Phillip Beck, Stephanie Gunawan, Erin Johnson, Kendra Spanton, Yulianto Maliang, I Nyoman Kerta, I Gusti Ngurah Putra Wiarsa, Heru Wijayanto (designers), Joerg Stamm (bamboo consultant)
Structural engineering: Faculty of Civil Engineering, Gadjah Mada University,
Jogjakarta, Ir. Morisco, Ashar Saputra, Inggar S. Irawati
Construction supervision: PT Bamboo Pure
Client: Yayasan Kul Kul
Built area: 5,534 m2
Cost: approx. 3.120.000 USD
Design phase: June 2005 – September 2007
Construction phase: February 2007 – December 2007

Bamboo bridges that connect the two areas of the campus. The Green School consists of some fifty structures and pavilions that have, for the most part, no external walls