It’s strong, green and inexpensive: bamboo seems to be a go-to choice for construction. The plant is indeed on the march as an ecological building material, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed in Ecuador. VVOB invested in a partnership project with Belgian architect Sven Mouton, who lent his expertise in bamboo construction to both the government and technical schools in Ecuador: “Training students to become specialists in the matter gives them good perspectives in this booming business.”
Building back better
Ecuador’s youth in technical schools can benefit from more relevant training. The ‘skills mismatch’ is a problem of both relevance and quality in the country: the demand for particular skills does not match the supply of trained workers, and the supply does not meet employers’ expectations.
With this in mind, VVOB forges partnerships between technical and vocational education and training (TVET) schools and the private sector. As a result of these RCC-projects* schools can offer more relevant training to their students, and employers can count on a more skilled workforce.
This particular RCC-project revolves around introducing TVET students in Agriculture to bamboo, how it’s produced and its benefits for durable construction. In the context of a country that is rebuilding itself after a destructive earthquake in 2016, the importance of thinking ‘outside the box’ and improving building practices going forward cannot be stressed enough.
Bamboo plays an important role here. Not only for its sturdiness, but also for its ecofriendly character, says architect Sven: “As a construction material, bamboo is seriously underrated. It’s seven times stronger and absorbs three to five times more carbon than wood. Steel on the other hand produces two tons of carbon per ton produced. Bamboo is just as strong as steel. It’s even earthquake resistant. Why are we not using it more?”
Under the umbrella of VVOB, Sven’s architectural bamboo expertise benefits Ecuador’s youth in two ways. First, TVET students enrolled in Agricultural Production in 9 schools in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas (and in the future hopefully also in 11 more schools in Manabí) receive newly developed courses on bamboo as a durable construction material. As the Santo Domingo Prefecture and Universidad Tecnológica Equinoccial have similar projects, they’ll also be partners in this process.
Second, at government level, Sven provided support to the development of the national building standards of educational infrastructures. As a result, the Ministry of Education has now introduced ‘The New School’, an educational setting that is 100 per cent sustainable and partly made of bamboo. “Hopefully, this sparks a small construction-revolution where bamboo will become a logical choice for all buildings.”
We’ve already made the case for building with bamboo for sustainability reasons, but it’s got plenty more characteristics that makes it so valuable for Ecuador: it costs 40 per cent less to use as a construction material than concrete, it’s culturally relevant to local communities, it’s non-invasive to local biodiversity and – if eventually used for the construction of schools – it’s conducive to efficient and innovative pedagogies.
Sven concludes: “As architects and engineers, we need to start thinking of bamboo as quality building material in every context.”
‘RCC’ stands for ‘Relación Colegio - Comunidad’, or ‘School - Community Partnership’ in English. With these projects, VVOB establishes a relationship between TVET schools and companies and/or institutions (such as universities, decentralised autonomous governments, associations etc.) to strengthen the skills of both teachers and students through up-to-date training and modern equipment. As a result, the private sector benefits from graduates with the necessary skills to add value to their businesses, while students significantly increase their future opportunities for access to higher education and quality employment.
Header picture credit: Ministerio de Educación Ecuador