Searching for new ways to build sustainable homes, Earl Forlales decided to look not into the future, but to the past.
His grandparents, like generations of Filipinos, lived in a “Bahay Kubo” — a traditional, boxy, single-story bamboo hut on stilts, indigenous to the Philippines. “Filipinos have been using bamboo (for housing) even before colonial times, for thousands of years,” he says.
The company launched production of its prefabricated homes in November 2020. The structures can be assembled in just a few days and are predicted to last up to 50 years, says Forlales. He hopes that Cubo’s modular designs and use of bamboo can “help accelerate sustainable building” while also providing affordable housing solutions for the Philippines’ housing crisis.
Cubo’s homes range from 30 to 63 square meters, the largest sleeping up to six people. Credit: CUBO Modular Inc
A contemporary cube house
Cubo’s bamboo homes incorporate many aspects of the traditional “Bahay Kubo” including a raised foundation and louvers, a type of window blind that allows natural ventilation and light.
The company’s first project was tested very quickly — in December 2020, just days after the first two homes were constructed, the region was hit by a magnitude six earthquake. Cubo’s houses survived unscathed.
Utilizing all available space, loft bedrooms and fitted furniture make the most of these compact homes. Credit: CUBO Modular Inc
Cubo offers four different models, sleeping up to six residents. Each house is made to order and can be customized to include elements such as solar panels on the roof, further reducing the running costs and the carbon footprint of its residents.
The company is currently producing six houses per month, but Forlales says demand is much higher and he’s hoping to increase supply.
“Filipinos warmly welcomed the product, because it’s very familiar,” he says. “They realized that it’s an intuitive evolution for our local bamboo houses.”
Bamboo building boom
Is bamboo the building material of the future?
While bamboo has been used to build small structures for thousands of years, “it’s only now that we have safe, natural treatment solutions that we can consider building multi-story buildings,” says Elora Hardy, founder and creative director of Ibuku. While most of her projects use treated bamboo in its natural form, she adds that with advances in engineered bamboo, there could be “skyscrapers and even whole cities that can be built out of bamboo” in the future.
Ibuku specializes in sculptural villas, hotel resorts, and “green” school campuses made from bamboo. Credit: Tommaso Riva/IBUKU
“Standards for mechanical testing of engineered bamboo materials are currently being developed; however, areas such as fire performance require extensive study,” says Sharma.
As a strong, fast-growing, and renewable material, bamboo could supplement sustainably harvested hardwoods, says Sharma, with the added benefit of bamboo plantations helping to restore degraded soil and land.
From the exterior structure to interior furnishings, Ibuku shows that bamboo can have varied applications in architecture and design. Credit: Indra Wiras/IBUKU
Helping out a housing crisis
While sustainability is bamboo’s primary advantage, it’s not the only reason Cubo is looking to the fast-growing grass as an alternative building material.
Cubo produces three homes in its workshop every two weeks, and then takes three to five days to assemble each one onsite. Credit: CUBO Modular Inc
Cubo’s homes cost between 649,800 Philippine pesos ($12,900) to 1.8 million Philippine pesos ($35,738) — which is roughly comparable to mid-range homes built with conventional materials, says Forlales. However, he aims to bring prices down by streamlining production and increasing automation in the workshop. The company has also introduced a payment plan, to help reduce upfront costs for buyers.
With bamboo naturally growing throughout Asia, each country has “their own species of bamboo that you can use for construction,” says Forlales — creating potential to build cube houses beyond the Philippines, too.
“Around Asia we have millions of square kilometers that are planted with bamboo. So it’s just a matter of tapping into other markets where you can get it,” he adds.