Riding the bamboo wave – Coachella Music and arts festival

Riding the bamboo wave – Coachella Music and arts festival

In 2008 ¬†designer Gerard Minakawa (known to most as G) was approached about making a large bamboo installation at Coachella Music Festival. The Art Director at the time, Phillip Blaine put it simply, saying “We want big beautiful and bamboo”. Gerard was getting established with his business, Bamboo DNA and I was just a few years into creating The Natural Builders. He invited us to collaborate. The design was anything but simple, so we pulled together an amazing team of architects, designers, builders, photographers, lighting experts and chefs.

After months of preparation as we sat on the well manicured polo field with several dozen of our crew, whom had now become like family. We initiated something bold. Burning sage and passing a bottle of whiskey at dusk, we blessed the raising of the the the art piece, dubbed the Bamboo Wave. Gerard lifted the bottle offering a tearful thanks to all whom had contributed. He spoke of the good fortune that such gigs were now coming in regularly, describing the chance to build with bamboo as a wave we would ride as long as possible.

In the coming days we would put our heads together and divide into teams. Each of us tackling different aspects of the 40,000 pound sculpture. Weavers wove, columns builders making columns and in the end we each brought our pieces together on the polo feld. Joined by about dozen pieces of heavy machinery and operators, we attempted the impossible and compromised to something more realistic.

Our true goals were simple, to show people that bamboo was something more then a material for their flooring. We wanted to create a spectacle, something that would draw the hundreds of thousands of festival goers underneath and finally utter the words “bamboo”. Ill be honest, we didn’t build the structure exactly as it was designed, despite our best intentions physics simply was not on our side. What we did do was learn how to adapt, to move with the process and be flexible… like bamboo.

Dozens of projects and years later, I still draw on the inspiration of that first huge bamboo art piece. Its not that I think temporary installations are sustainable or that everyone should build out of bamboo. With our current environmental reality it behoves us to challenge what we are taught in architecture school and go beyond the simplicity of corporate sponsored building codes. Its time to find a new edge for natural materials. To the extent that festivals like Coachella are willing to support that work, Im grateful!

Kevin Rowell

Co-author of the book “Preserving Haiti’s Gingerbread Houses” ¬†works as a consultant for development agencies and emerging technology companies.