Amir Rabik has been working with sustainable architecture, in particular with bamboo, for 40 years. After having explored, promoted and diffused the qualities of this natural material, having an enormous potential, in the whole world and having followed projects in Asia, in the Caribbeans and in Europe, seven years ago Amir launched the project of a Tv that deals with sustainable issues in Bali, Indonesia. The aim is to get Bali rid of the plastic “virus” and to raise the islands’ cosmopolitan population’s awareness about a return to traditional natural materials.
Green News met him in Alam Tv studio, located in a building in the middle of Kuta Bali traffic, but protected by bamboo walls and entirely furnished in coconut wood, recycled teak and bamboo. Other details such as aluminum foil on the ceiling [that allows to earn 35% more light] and two hanging gardens on the balconies, once bare cement platforms, show that it is possible to create a corner of nature in an extremely urbanized environment.
What pushed you to launch Alam Tv?
After having dealt with sustainable materials for 40 years, I wanted to change but I wanted to keep promoting a nature friendly lifestyle. So, I thought of education through the media. I was pushed by the desire to raise awareness among people living in Bali about what it is happening to this island. Bali is getting more and more crowded. According to official census, there are 4 millions local people living on the island and around 45,000 foreigners. However, these figures are not reliable and actually we do not know how many people live in Bali. Moreover, the target is to have 7 million tourist per year, but there is not enough infrastructure. Today, at least 1500 hectares per year are converted into housing and property for tourism. This is not sustainable and it is getting worse and worse, especially as far as waste management is concerned, but also for water and electricity supply, transportation and great unfair economic distribution.
What does Alam Tv deals with?
60% of the programs deal with environmental issues in Bali and I hope in the future we will also deal with environmental issues at a national level. We have a program called “Waste Busters” in which we shoot how people take care of their rubbish. This program is part of a larger campaign against plastic bags that we are carrying along with central government and that aims at getting rid of plastic waste within 3 and a half years. Our target is to make people aware so that they start using again banana leaves for wrapping, as it has always been done in Bali, and personal cloth bags to do the shopping.
How do the broadcast work?
We now air for 4 hours everyday, from 5 to 10 pm. Now Alam Tv is being watched by 2.5 million people, but soon we’re going to build a tower that will allow our television to be watched by around 9 million people. We are creating a network with other Tvs at a national and international level with whom we exchange programs. We collaborate with sponsors who support our programs, mostly on environment and culture. Sometimes sponsors fund the production of existing programs. At the moment it is a non profit kind of Tv. We keep looking for sponsors, programs and exchanges so to remain focused on environmental issues without taking any advertising.
Let’s talk about your experience with bamboo. How did your passion for this material started?
I fell in love with bamboo in the 70s and I decided I was going to work with bamboo and that I would do anything with bamboo: furniture, architecture, baskets, this and that…hundreds of different things…In the 1970s nobody worked with bamboo. It was a material used for bridges and boats or for religious ceremonies. Actually I was using a material that had been always largely used in this area. Before plastic, in the villages any item was made of bamboo. However, it was seen as a poor material, because it was so easy to find, cheap and used by the lowest layer of society.
I started to study it and I discovered its amazing functional qualities: it is one of the most flexible materials, it is easy to grow, easy to work with, it’s a four season material. And in the long term it is definitely the best substitute to rain forest wood. Actually, we don’t need to use rainforest wood. Of course there is the problem of treatment and of its longevity, there are many products used for this purpose. [refer to Green News 1/4/11]. Moreover, bamboo is also very beautiful as well as environmentally friendly. I have been promoting the use of bamboo for years and I am very happy that more and more people love this material and that it is used all over the world.
In what way can eco-friendly materials make people happier?
First of all their simplicity and their beauty. Then, they allow more oxygen flow in the building, which is good for the brain! Moreover, natural materials are easier to cope with and they make you active like gardening. Exactly like gardening brings you closer to nature, by dirtying your hands and observing the growth of the seeds and of the plants, by eating what grows in your garden, taking care of the natural material that make up your living environment make you much happier, healthier, fulfilled and less polluted. This kind of architecture does not last long, like when you build using concrete. But there is no problem, just adapt to it. Bamboo is quite reasonable, you grow more, you buy more, you build more and more often and you become more creative without harming the environment.
Bamboo is usually associated with a tropical environment, but you have worked with bamboo also in Europe…
There are many varieties of bamboo, which grows at any latitudes. There is even bamboo that grows in the snow! In 2006 I was invited to the Boom festival to be the architect. I asked the organizers if I could use bamboo and promote this kind of material in Europe and my proposal was accepted. It worked very well because I know they kept using it. Boom got the credit for being the most cultured festival ever at that time, also for the materials used in the building of the structures.
What do you think of the ideas of sustainable cities of the future?
I heard many ideas about this, most of them associated with the womb, going back to the very beginning. Many propose the use of eco-friendly materials; nevertheless, I am not sure about the concept of an “ideal city” and I think it is already wrong. We keep looking for permanent solutions, but when we say we are going back to nature, we need to change our mind-set and understand that in nature this concept does not exist. In nature everything is transformed and natural material easily wear out and need continuous adaptation. It is possible to build a city entirely with natural materials, but we have to accept that it may be destroyed by bugs, fungus, natural disasters and that we will need to keep inventing and adapting to the cycles of nature.
How can existing architecture be adapted to an eco-friendly approach?
It is difficult but it is possible. You can adapt spaces, as we have done here with the hanging gardens, where I have transformed concrete platform by simply adding some plants and bamboo. It is possible in any climate. Anywhere it is possible to make architecture more friendly and adapting concrete structures by adding some natural material. What you need to keep are simplicity and comfort, create good spaces with good air flow, good sunlight flow, the association between inside and outside space…Even if sometimes I think the only way would be that nature adapts it its own way: a natural disaster wiping out all the horrible concrete and absestum stuff and that allows us to build everything new using natural materials!
Do you think in Indonesia there is more awareness about environment?
I believe it is a global trend, not only concerning Indonesia. Beside some contradictions, there is increasing awareness in Africa, Asia, Europe…in the whole world. I hope it is not too late. I am pleased to see young architects and designers working more and more with natural materials, not only bamboo but also stone, clay, rocks, stones, ylang-ylang…In Bali we are lucky because traditionally we have many beautiful, functional, strong and spacious buildings made of natural materials that young people can get inspired from…although they are today difficult to find, in this concrete jungle!
Therefore in order to “go forward” we need to “go backwards” and refer to traditions?
We come from nature and we need to go back to nature. However, this does not mean that we have to go backwards, but that we have to make steps forward in a different direction. We need to respect nature and adapt the world we have created to this new global awareness. We do not know what it is going to happen because nature has its cycles and its rhythms and sometimes, while adapting, it destroys people and things. However, I keep believing the only way to limit the damages is to go back to nature and I will keep promoting this approach as I did when I was working with bamboo and now with Alam Tv.
Alam Tv is looking for sponsors and/or people interested in exchanging documentaries/programs about good environmental practices. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any ideas or projects that can help developing this Balinese Tv dealing with environmental issues.
Published on WildAsia