Simón Veléz: revolution in bamboo

November 2009 -

"Simón Vélez's aesthetic and technical innovations in bamboo have enhanced it construction potential and challenged mainstream architectural trends" says the jury report of the Prins Claus Fund that awarded the Principal Prins Claus Prize 2009 to the Colombian architect in September 2009.


Simón Veléz. (Photo: Pedro Franco)

Veléz became world famous with his fourteen-metre bamboo structure for the World Fair in Germany in 2000. Bamboo, a material that has been used in Colombia as well as other parts of the world, including Hawaii and Vietnam, in local architecture for centuries, offers both architectural and ecological advantages. "Bamboo is natural steel, with which I can achieve the same things that an engineer does with steel, because they both offer the same resistance," says the Colombian architect. After years of study, he triggered a revolution in the early eighties by using the material. "In local construction methods, the bamboo sticks were connected using natural fibres. The humid and hot climate, however, eroded the stability of the structure over time. By filling the hollow bamboo sticks with gravel and connecting them with rivets, I achieved the same durability achieved by using concrete or steel. Bamboo is also an inexpensive material that is extremely resistant to earthquakes."
Museo Nomado in Mexico (Photo: Ashes Snow)

Throughout the world Veléz is now considered an avant-garde architect who is virtually solely responsible for innovating the use of a natural material in ingenious ways. Successfully. He builds all over the world, and many other architects utilise his revolutionary method. German architect Joerg Stamm, for example, built a fifty-metre bridge in Bali that can be traversed by freight trucks without difficulty.

"Bamboo is a building material with a high technological value. Perhaps even more important, however, is the fact that it is an ecological and inexpensive alternative that nature produces virtually for free. When you buy steel you are enriching people who already have enough money. But when you buy bamboo, you support financially impoverished farmers who really need the income. That is why the use of this natural material is also socially motivated," says Veléz.