By Karen Tee
The newest building at the sustainability-focused Green School in Bali is a breakthrough in architectural engineering.
Located in the lush forests of Ubud in Bali is the Green School, an international school and community known around the world for its holistic approach to education. The academy is strongly focused on sustainability – naturally it is built to be eco-friendly too. Its unique buildings are made predominantly from bamboo, mud and grass, and the campus runs entirely on renewable energy; even food waste is converted into compost.
“We believe that education needs to change. It needs to adapt to the future,” said Sal Gordon, head of teaching and learning at Green School Bali, who has been at the school for nearly a decade. “Our students learn to make the world sustainable, and we believe the purpose of education should be to make the world a better place.”
The wall-less Heart of School is where a lot of the action happens. Unlike other schools where teachers demand the students’ full attention, here it is perfectly understandable if some distractions happen.
“Being wall-less has its advantages, obviously it is connected to the natural environment. There are also challenges within that too because it is quite distracting,” said Gordon. He cited cute rabbits hopping in the grass outside the building as one such example. “But it is okay to get distracted by nature.”
The internationally accredited school admits students aged three to 18 where they have a regular curriculum like science and maths classes. On top of that, students also participate in programmes to develop their entrepreneurial and problem-solving skills from a young age, often with a focus on sustainability.
For example, the middle school students recently started their own kitchen and designed a working restaurant system that included roles such as managers, chefs, accountants and waiters. This project was created so that the students are made aware of challenges in the real world.
“My son was in that class and he was a waiter. And he quit,” Gordon added with a laugh.
But the point of the school’s approach to education is to give the students rich learning experiences, continued Gordon. “They might go home and say I read a really cool book, but they are definitely going home and saying ‘We built a new place for the chickens’. These are the real experiences, the real memories we want to create.”
More recently, sustainable designer Elora Hardy – her father and stepmother John and Cynthia Hardy launched Green School in 2008 – has also left her mark on the institution. For the past 12 years, the founder of Ibuku design and architecture studio, which specialises in sustainable buildings and homes, is the brains behind a dozen of the buildings on campus. She uses bamboo in her designs as it takes only three to four years to grow, making it a sustainable building material.
“When I first walked into the Heart of School I was like: ‘What is this?’ I just had to start to be part of this,” said Hardy of her earliest memories of the school. “Over the past 12 years since I’ve been back in Bali, my team and I have developed each of the new buildings on campus and grown it.”
The latest accomplishment is the awe-inspiring Arc, a space used for sports activities. Built from intersecting 14m tall bamboo arches and spanning 19m wide – or more than three badminton courts – the impressive five-storey high structure is a feat in architectural engineering.
“We wanted to create a space where your whole body would want to throw a ball in the farthest and highest arc you could. More practically, we needed to think about how to span that space with no columns in between,” she said.
Gordon added: “It is by far one of the most beautiful, epic gyms in the world. It is so massive and so intricately designed from sustainable bamboo material, which has this ability to bend and to create shapes.”
In 2021, the Arc won the Dezeen Awards Sustainable Building of the Year.
Bamboo has often been regarded as a humble material used to make simple buildings in villages across tropical parts of the world because it degenerates with time. “You could not count on bamboo to create long-lasting structures until you had a proper treatment solution for it because if you do not treat it properly and protect it from insect attacks, then it will not last,” Hardy explained.
“But for almost two decades now, we have had a way to naturally treat bamboo by making it salty enough that the bugs do not eat it anymore,” she continued.
These days, bamboo buildings can last for as long as wooden buildings can, and Hardy is optimistic that a combination of more advanced treatment solutions and design ingenuity will allow bamboo buildings to last for hundreds of years eventually.
“We can have gorgeous, glamorous, luxurious homes made out of the same material that will be so important and useful for creating relief housing and all kinds of practical, much more important basic necessities in the world,” she said.
And all of this, in many ways, starts in a school, where children are given the opportunity to learn and the space to dream about what was once thought impossible. This is exactly the ethos that Green School continues to instil in students, both in Bali as well as its growing network of schools globally, including New Zealand, South Africa and Mexico.
Hardy continued: “The whole structures around Green School are a promise to the kids that a beautiful, sustainable world is possible. And that element of beauty is only relevant in that we are emotionally compelled by a sense of wonder when we walk into a beautiful space.”
Source: Channel News Asia