Elora Hardy didn’t follow the path that most architects take, but she builds some of the most magical homes on earth. Daughter of the jeweler John Hardy, who moved to Bali in the ‘70s, Elora grew up on the island and, after moving to New York and designing prints for Donna Karan, returned to Bali to help her father and stepmother build the first Green School. It was an ambitious project—a school composed of bamboo buildings that teaches a sustainability-focused curriculum. The school draws an international community of eco-minded families, and Green Village—a cluster of luxurious, sustainable bamboo homes—grew up around it to house them. That’s how Hardy ended up staying and founding the design firm Ibuku, which is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary.
“If you asked someone twenty years ago whether there would have been high quality bamboo construction within a decade they would have said ‘no’ and in the past ten years that’s only increased,” Hardy told me, explaining how the firm’s success couldn’t have been foreseen. “We’ve really shifted the perception in the world and we’ve also shifted the perception in Bali, which is a powerful thing because bamboo wasn’t taken seriously here,” she said. “It was used constantly for short term use, but now it is being claimed as an iconic style for Bali.”
Those who have seen Ibuku’s awe-inspiring work tend to be fans. I was lucky enough to visit Green Village and tour Eclipse House on a trip to Bali a few years ago and I must say, the pandemic has got me fantasizing about living there—a sentiment Hardy understands.
“Many people are stuck at or finding refuge in their homes, and it brings up a lot more intentional thought about what is this home space, how can it make me feel in the world,” she said, musing on how architecture over the centuries has gotten better and better at shutting us off from the outside world and alienating us from nature. “We need shelter, but shelter can be something we design to make us feel the way we want to feel.”
The homes Hardy builds are designed to make their inhabitants feel closer to nature. First and foremost, they are made almost entirely out of natural materials—bamboo, river stones, brass, etc. Secondly, they embrace natural curves, eschewing right angles. And though the bedrooms are enclosed by glass and air conditioned, some of the other rooms are wall-less and open to the elements. They rise up to four stories high in the jungle of Ubud. “I think that we’re fine with being in conventional spaces, we’re used to being in a square room, it’s normal to us. But I love the experience that you get and what opens up when you’re in a space that feels more aligned with the natural world and with our own bodies,” Hardy said, adding, “It has a conscious impact.”
Building with bamboo is also much better for the environment than building with other materials because it’s so regenerative. While a tree takes forty years or more to grow, it only takes four years for bamboo to grow tall and strong enough to support part of a building. Bamboo has been used in Bali and elsewhere for centuries, but it was traditionally seen as the poor man’s timber because if not treated properly, it gets destroyed by bugs and the elements. Hardy treats it with a natural salt water solution that ensures its longevity. She and her design team find inspiration in its form and strength. Rather than forcing it into shapes they want it to take, they let the way it bends and curves guide their design.
“In order to work with bamboo you have to think differently. You have to bend with it, you have to accommodate it, you have to value it,” Hardy explained. “I feel like we’ve let bamboo guide us into being original in ways that we as designers weren’t capable of ourselves.”
In the ten years since Ibuku launched, people have come from around the world to see the firm’s work and to study with Hardy and her team at Bamboo U. She has gained international renown, giving a TED Talk and appearing on the show Home by Apple TV. And she is taking her bamboo expertise around the world. So far, she has completed restaurants in Hong Kong and Principe Island in West Africa, a yoga pavilion for the Four Seasons in Bali, a beach bar for the Fairmont Maldives, Como Marketplace in Singapore, and some suites at Bambu Indah, an eco-resort run by her father and stepmother. She’s currently working on Green School Tulum, sister school to the original Green School in Ubud. And she sees a lot more possibilities for the humble, sustainable material.
“You could build a skyscraper out of bamboo,” Hardy asserts. “It just has to be understood enough to be engineered properly, it has to be complimented with technologies like a coating that would make it more water resistant or arranged with other materials that did their job well so that it could do its job well.”
It may seem unbelievable now, but given everything that Hardy has accomplished in the past ten years, maybe we’ll start to see bamboo skyscrapers soon. Until then, anyone interested in commissioning a bamboo house in Bali can reach out to Hardy.