Are bamboo homes the future?

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Cubo Modular uses engineered bamboo for its modular housing units.

By Vincent Mariel P. Galang

CAN A MODEST house made of bamboo provide the solution to addressing the housing crisis in the Philippines?

For Cubo Modular, a start-up that designs and builds bamboo houses, the answer is yes.

Founded by Earl Patrick Forlales and Zahra Halabisaz Zanjani, Cubo has made it its mission to provide affordable, dignified housing to low-income Filipinos. On its website, the company says its vision is a Philippines “with no slums.”

Mr. Forlales, chief executive officer and co-founder of Cubo Modular, said the biggest problems for housing in the Philippines are accessibility and security. Urbanization has also pushed many Filipinos to move from their provinces to the city, forcing them to live in overcrowded, slum areas.

“There is an opportunity if we come up with a solution that has the services or at least the security of government housing, and accessibility,” he told BusinessWorld in an interview.

Cubo Modular is hoping its product — a housing unit made of bamboo — can help address the housing backlog. The company boasts that the unit can be built in just four hours.

“Because of that it’s a very fast solution and an easy deployable solution,” Mr. Forlales said. “Why don’t we adapt a manufacturing model that has longevity, then I believe we may have the solution.”

He had the idea for modular bamboo housing units in 2018. Later that year, Mr. Forlales won the top prize from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Cities for Our Future Challenge. The contest called on young designers to address pressing issues such as rapid urbanization, climate change, and resource scarcity.

Cubo founders Earl Patrick Forlales and Zahra Halabisaz Zanjani

Ms. Zanjani later joined Mr. Forlales to further develop the idea into a business. They were both included in Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 Asia list last April.

Cubo uses engineered bamboo for its modular housing units. After growing the bamboo for three years, it will be harvested and treated to reduce moisture and improve its quality. An engineered bamboo can last for about 50 years.

“You put an engineered bamboo house alongside all of these, you would find out when a person enters a Cubo, the feeling is different. What we want to offer is place they can call their home. It kind of touches the cultural aspect of the Philippines, like a modern bahay kubo,” Ms. Zanjani, chief operating officer and co-founder of Cubo Modular, said during the interview.

Cubo offers two variants, a 14-square meter (sq.m.) unit, which is the same as a studio type and a 28-sq.m. unit, which is like a one-bedroom unit. A sq.m. is priced at P25,000.

“What we’re trying to do now is aggregate all the growers and plantations for at least three to five year, but for now we are sourcing it from abroad,” she explained.

In the next ten years, the company is targeting to produce 30,000 units and be able to help address the problem of homeless Filipinos, which is currently around 6 million. Cubo is also looking at licensing the technology in the future.

“We’ve been using bamboo for centuries, but even that’s the case we’ve been stuck with using in its raw form, which is the poles, but there’s a great opportunity for us if we turn it into engineered bamboo,” Mr. Forlales said.