Phil Morgan is Director of Creativity and Head of Human Technologies at ICHK
A few years ago I visited The Green School in Bali. In educational terms it is an almost-mythical ‘Shangri-la’ of a school – the world’s most beautiful and ecologically aware institution. It’s an extraordinary community that aspires to raise a generation of green leaders. Imagine twenty acres of permaculture gardens and stunning bamboo buildings. The Green School is a rare ‘lighthouse brand’ that attracts the ecological ‘rock gods’ of teaching. (Check out its application process for new teachers…!!) People who can work from anywhere relocate just to send their kids there. I wish there were more like it.
So I got curious about bamboo…
As part of ICHK’s ‘Deep Learning’ programme I now run a four-day experience called ‘Bamboo Creativity’. It takes sixteen teenage participants, HK$1,000 worth of bamboo, (That’s a truckload), very basic hand tools, some space and a lot of imagination.
I’ve learnt that bamboo is a very zen’ material to work with, and the learning from a large-scale bamboo build can be profound.
Not to sound too ‘Bruce Lee’, but its strength really does lie in its emptiness. If we apply the right tools and knowledge it is easy to work with. If we choose the wrong tools it can be an absolute, splintery, splitting nightmare. There are so many ways to get it right and even more ways to get it wrong. Bamboo can be simple or difficult depending on how well it is used, and how quickly you can understand it. It is light enough to build impressive structures quickly, and strong enough to last, but causes serious problems if poorly handled. Mistakes are easily made, but also easily rectified if we can learn to think sideways. The plan often shifts mid-process, so we have to adapt to changing circumstances. As a material it forces you to “Go with the flow.”
As with any craft, bamboo builds can be as simple or as sophisticated as a group can handle. Small learnings result in substantial improvements. When I use bamboo with groups, the initial focus is on the structure; the grand design, but the learning that transpires is always about teamwork, learning to learn, effective communication, prioritisation, workflow, selection of resources, time management, tenacity in the face of setbacks, and the inevitable tension between vision and reality.
The satisfaction that comes from a design that has been realised is immense and empowering.