Effan Adhiwira the Bamboo Warrior

Back in 2014, I interviewed, the then young and emerging architect Effan Adhiwira for my old workplace blog. Now, almost 4 years later, I honestly think the interview below is as relevant today as it was back then.


Meet Effan Adhiwira, a young, emerging architect specialized in bamboo structure manipulation; a master manipulator of everything bamboo; the bamboo warrior.

Back in the colonial days when the Dutch government of East Indies was cracking under the pressure of the spirit of freedom and independence, bamboo played a very dominant role in Indonesia’s War of Independence.

Bambu runcing, a makeshift lance made from bamboo, was the weapon of choice for many. It was cheap and deadly effective. Its usage was so dominant it has become the symbol of people’s struggle in Indonesia ever since.

However, long before men used it as a weapon–and long after–bamboo has a more constructive use. It’s flexible and durable enough to be used as building structures. Its skin, cut into long strips, can be weaved into sheets known as gedhek that has both functional and decorative use, as wall, wall ornaments or ceilings.

In Indonesia, where one can find bamboo trees grow in almost every part of the land–from Papua’s thick forests to Bali’s riverbanks and Jakarta’s vacant land patches–using bamboo in a building is nothing new. To use it as primary building materials, however, is quite something else. And that’s exactly what Effan has been doing.


Effan Adhiwira
Effan Adhiwira the Bamboo Bender
Bamboe Koening Resto
Bamboe Koening Resto
Mayagati House | Cirebon. Doc: EffStudio
Mayagati House | Cirebon. Doc: EffStudio
Mayagati House | Cirebon. Doc: EffStudio
Mayagati House | Cirebon. Doc: EffStudio
Bamboe Koening Resto
Bamboe Koening Resto

It seems to me that bamboo-nizing the country is Effan‘s personal crusade. With a passion only second to panda when it comes to bamboo, Effan would bend, cut, and shape the bamboos into some crazy-looking, yet beautiful structures to satiate his creativity (in sync with the patron’s demand).

Not only that, he also initiated Bamboo Notion, a serious campaign to promote bamboo’s usage in architecture across the country by hosting seminars in universities with architecture and civil engineering majors. By targeting students instead of his fellow architects, he wishes he could share his passion and skills to young talents out there.

Effan has spent these last 5 years designing resorts, villas, and other buildings across Java, Bali and Lombok. Among his creations is the Green School, an international, green-oriented school located in Ubud, Bali, then under the wing of PT Bambu, a design and construction company for which he had worked as an architect.

His days at PT Bambu have given him confidence to fly solo. He’s been working on several projects under his own studio, the latest of which is a resort on Bintan islands.

The following is my interview with the bamboo warrior himself.

Q: So, Effan, why bamboo, man? What gives?

A: It happened when I was stuck with “common’ materials at one point, especially as a young designer who naturally has a passion to be different. But actually, I need to work with a material that is easy to get in Indonesia, which mean less headache in terms of transportation and cheaper in terms of cost. On the other hand, it has all the flexibility I need to support my creativity.

Q: What projects are you working on right, now?

A: The Specialty Restaurant for Ritz Carlton Reserve in Ubud and Bumi Sehat Birthing Clinic in Nyuh Kuning, Ubud. All with bamboo.

Q: How many projects have you done these far? Which one is the most challenging?

A: We’ve done 6 projects located in different provinces of Indonesia. Not bad for a studio that’s only established less than two years ago, right? Every projects is challenging. Each of them have that special feature made specifically for them. So far, all of them are masterpiece.

Q: Is there any architect or architectural work that inspires you the most? What aspects, if any, that you wish to get from them as your inspiration?

A: I’m inspired by Santiago Calatrava, the architect-engineer from Spain. His works show his respect toward the structure of the nature. Although he’s more a concrete and steel guy, but I learned a lot from how he creates shapes and his really good sense of structural analogy.

Q: What is the most insane project you could imagine doing?

A: I’m trying to be realistically-insane…I imagine if we can built bamboo skyscraper. Not only high-rise building, but one that has minimum height of 100 meters. Why I said that ‘I’m realistically-insane?’ It’s because we have already developed the concept for such structure in our studio…how the structure works, how to protect it from elements, how to retain it from winds and earthquake and so on. And you know what, we’ve made the physical model for it.

Q: What do you love the most from working with bamboo?

A: The flexibility.. it fits with our geological condition.. earthquake! It also brings a lot of possibility in terms of creativity. Furthermore, it’s lightweight material.. it’s good as a bigspan and wide space structure while at the same time doesn’t put too much load on the foundation/earth.

Dodoha Mosintuwu | Poso | Doc: EffStudio
Dodoha Mosintuwu | Poso | Doc: EffStudio
Bamboe Koening Resto | Ubud | Doc EffStudio
Bamboe Koening Resto | Ubud | Doc EffStudio
Mayagati House | Cirebon. Doc: EffStudio
Mayagati House | Cirebon. Doc: EffStudio

Q: Could you tell me more about your creative process when designing?

A: For sure I need to know first about the function of the structure I’m going to design. The function is always no.1. From there, I will start by figuring out what kind of envelope that is able to accommodate that function perfectly. Mostly, I got inspiration from the nature, since we live in it. Somehow, the nature is the greatest structure vocabulary. We just need to look and try to grow a deep feeling about it. Then after I’ve got the idea, I start to do the technical structure analogy within some sketches and bamboo models. When it’s done, the model will become the guideline for the bamboo workers to build the real envelope.

Q: It seems to me that your works are more applied arts than architecture. Do you agree? Would you please elaborate?

A: Actually, architecture is about combination between art and technical stuffs. If you see my works are more about art, then you need to come to my studio to see how we develop all the engineering aspects to get that “art” look. The more complicated it is art-wise, the more sophisticated engineering design it needs to balance it out. We do both. That’s what I like about architecture. It always make my brain work in balance.

Q: What are the challenges you face as an architect specialized in bamboo?

A: Getting trust from the potential clients. As materials, bamboo in Indonesia is often perceived as temporary/ emergency, poor, and cheap. What I can do about it is none other than to build more and more bamboo buildings. People’s trust grows whenever they see, feel, and feel comfort with something.

Q: Bamboo certainly has limits compared to the conventional architecture. What innovation or ideas that you think you can give to break that boundaries?

A: I don’t need to break the boundaries.. that’s the characteristic of natural material. It’s always impermanent. The culture is about sustainable construction. The time it takes for rot and crack to take place is enough for us to prepare for the substitute material. The innovation is about how to make it last longer. That is, by having a good design. A design has to support the characteristic of the material itself. Ex : incorporate a good protection from the sun and rain in the design will extend the life of the bamboo materials.

Some innovations are expected, in line with the technology that almost can solve everything right now. But if there is a simpler solution by using other materials than trying to do innovation which can cost you more both in energy and time… I would go for the simple one. Life is about collaboration. Loving bamboo doesn’t mean that I need to do all with bamboo, but rather to make bamboo works harmoniously with other materials.

Q: Where do you position yourself in general and bamboo architecture in particular within the general concept of green architecture if there is such a thing?

A: I’m not sure what green architecture is. It’s now kind of a selling gimmick to the world.

I would say I do “wise architecture”. I still use concrete, plastic, styrofoam but in a wise way. Use them in the optimal usage. It’s not purely about the material we use, but it also about how, when, and where we use the material.

Ex: I rather use styrofoam as the insulation material than send bamboo from Bali for a project in Africa.

Q: Lastly, what do you see in the future for bamboo architecture?

A: I hope I can see bamboo as an equal alternative construction material. With more and more bamboo buildings that have been built, people will warm up to it as a building material. From there, let the creativity takes care of the rest.

All photos courtesy of EffStudio

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