Eco Design - Paving the Way to a Sustainable Planet

Humans are causing all sorts of problems with the Earth, we are consuming its resources faster than it can replenish, and we are filling the land, oceans, and air with our pollution. Designers are the people who make the stuff that gets consumed, so it's the designer's responsibility to offer the consumers products that fit in with our ethics and push on towards the way we want to see the world become.

 Beach Litter James Wolf Designer

From Wood to Grass

When I was 22 years old I left America and I moved to Japan where I studied Japanese woodworking and furniture making with a master furniture maker from 1992 until 1995. I was fascinated with antique Japanese wood furniture, and particularly the joinery. I loved wood, but I was also concerned about the sustainability of working with it since humans can easily use more wood than can be grown in the same amount of time. In short, wood is lovely but it takes 40 years to grow a tree!

 wood furnitureJapanese carpentry wood furnitureYoung James Wolf






In 1995 I attended the World Bamboo Congress in Bali where I met the leaders of the time developing all sorts of applications for bamboo. One of them was laminated bamboo lumber. Immediately I saw this as a sustainable replacement to wood, and I moved to Vietnam to set up a factory to produce bamboo hardwoods. It was during this time that I gained deep knowledge and intimacy with the process of turning bamboo strips into a wood-like material. Although the material is beautiful and is made from a regenerative source, there was still a lot about processing the material that isn’t green. Engineered bamboo uses a tremendous amount of energy to run the motors that power the many cutter heads, as well as energy used for dust extraction. There's a lot of wasted material, and just as much glue is used as bamboo, so although the end product
is really impressive, the process itself I found to be not as green as I had hoped for going into it.

Bamboo Like No Other!

While working in Vietnam on the bamboo hardwood production facility, I discovered a local species called Tam Vong, this bamboo is incredibly solid, hard, and bug resistant. In 1997 it occurred to me that we should focus our efforts on this species because we can build houses and furniture without having to do all the energy intensive machining. I got hooked on this amazingly solid bamboo. I also discovered another species in Vietnam in the 1990s, and although this originated from Central Vietnam, it also was incredibly hard, strong, and had a very thick wall. Both of these types of bamboo lend themselves very well for construction. It was then that I lost my love for the “wood-like” processed bamboo and returned to the purity of the conventional bamboo pole.

Another endeavor of my early years in Vietnam was pursuing various other ways to make standard construction materials from various forms of bamboo. We made woven sheets, and bamboo composite laminate that could easily be used for construction in many ways. Tourism in Vietnam began to grow in the mid and late 1990s, and I found a place doing bamboo construction for bars, restaurants and resorts. We had a team of 150 carpenters in the factory assembling prefabricated houses and making export products, and another 50 carpenters on site doing construction throughout South Vietnam. Most of our work during that time was around Ho Chi Minh CIty and along a beach development about 3 hours from Saigon called Phan Thiet.

Prefabricated Homes in Bamboo

Since we were operating both on site and in a factory we thought we could save on-site labor by building more prefabricated elements of bamboo houses in the factory to saving time constructing at the beach. We started to pursue this idea and at the same time we were approached by an architecture group in Hawaii called Bamboo Living. Working between Hawaii and Vietnam, I helped develop several styles of houses, and construction techniques for commercial and residential buildings that were built in our factory in Vietnam and assembled in America. These were the first houses in the world, and the only bamboo homes to be approved and accepted by United States building codes.

I moved to Bali in 2019 to work with IBUKU and set up a factory to manufacture ready to assemble bamboo houses. We offered 3 models of a Bali style prefabricated house.

Bamboo housing is in great need and more developments in technology, labor efficiency and acceptance must happen so that bamboo can help to solve our housing needs.