Looking for new ways to build sustainable homes, Earl Forlales decided to look not to the future but to the past.
His grandparents, like many generations of Filipinos, lived in a “Bahay Kubo” – a traditional, boxy, one-story bamboo hut, indigenous to the Philippines. “Filipinos have been using bamboo (for housing) for thousands of years before colonial times,” he said.
Forlales said the company began manufacturing prefabricated homes in November 2020. The structures can be assembled in just a few days and are expected to last up to 50 years. He hopes that Cubo’s modular designs and use of bamboo can “help promote sustainable construction” while providing affordable housing solutions to the Philippines’ housing crisis.
Cubo’s house has an area of 30 to 63 square meters, the largest sleeping space for up to six people. Credit: CUBO Modular Inc
Contemporary cube house
Cubo’s bamboo houses incorporate many aspects of the traditional “Bahay Kubo” style including raised foundations and louvers, a type of window curtain that allows ventilation and natural light.
The company’s first project was tested very quickly – in December 2020, just days after the first two houses were built, the area was hit by a magnitude 6 earthquake. . Cubo’s houses remained unharmed.
Making use of all available space, the loft bedroom and furnished furniture make the most of these compact homes. Credit: CUBO Modular Inc
Cubo offers four different models, accommodating up to six residents. Each home is made to order and can be customized to include elements like rooftop solar panels, further reducing residents’ operating costs and carbon footprint.
The company is currently producing six homes a month, but Forlales said demand is much higher and he hopes to increase supply.
“The people of the Philippines welcomed this product warmly because it was so familiar,” he said. “They realized it was a visual evolution for our local bamboo houses.”
Bamboo construction boom
Is bamboo the building material of the future?
Elora Hardy, founder and creative director of Ibuku, said: Although bamboo has been used to build small structures for thousands of years, “it’s only now that we have natural disposal solutions.” However, it is safe that we can consider building multi-storey buildings”. While most of her projects use treated bamboo in its natural form, she adds that with advancements in engineered bamboo, there could be “skyscrapers and even entire city sets can be built from bamboo” in the future.
Ibuku specializes in sculpture villas, hotel resorts and “green” school campuses made from bamboo. Credit: Tommaso Riva / IBUKU
“Standards for mechanical testing of fabricated bamboo materials are currently being developed; however, areas like fire resistance require extensive research,” said Sharma.
As a strong, fast-growing and renewable material, bamboo can complement sustainably harvested hardwoods, says Sharma, with the added benefit of growing bamboo that helps restore soil and discolored land.
From the exterior structure to the interior furnishings, Ibuku shows that bamboo can have diverse applications in architecture and design. Credit: Indra Wiras / IBUKU
Help solve the housing crisis
While sustainability is bamboo’s main advantage, it’s not the only reason Cubo looks to fast-growing grass as an alternative construction material.
Cubo manufactures three houses in its workshop every two weeks, and then takes 3-5 days to assemble each house on site. Credit: CUBO Modular Inc
Forlales said Cubo’s homes range in price from 649,800 Philippine pesos ($12,900) to 1.8 million Philippine pesos ($35,738) — the equivalent of mid-range homes built with common materials. However, he aims to reduce prices 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 growing naturally throughout Asia, each country has “its own species of bamboo that you can use to build,” said Forlales – creating the potential to build cube homes outside the Philippines.
“All over Asia, we have millions of square kilometers planted with bamboo. So just tap into other markets and you can get it,” he added.