Architecture grad designing his future with bamboo

Printer-friendly version Posted Date: Tuesday, March 27, 2018 - 11:45

Mathew Watson, a 2017 graduate of the Bachelor of Architecture (BArch) program at Alfred State, has embarked on a global journey to launch his career in architecture, one that includes a rather unique focus – bamboo.

During his thesis studio at Alfred State, Watson explored the use of bamboo in architecture to address humanitarian and sustainable building. Considering the effects of climate change, Watson merged these concepts to develop a thesis centered on disaster relief housing: Dr. Bamboo Homes, the letters of “Dr” standing for “disaster relief.”

“I had no prior experience in disaster relief architecture or bamboo construction, but that made it all the more intriguing to me,” he said. “The more I researched bamboo, the more I realized how eco-friendly and viable a building material it is.”

His research also revealed insights about the construction techniques and best practices of bamboo in different cultures, as it has been utilized in a multitude of ways over centuries.

“I quickly discovered bamboo is a material that cannot be taught through a computer screen,” Watson explained.

This realization led him to find Ibuku, an architecture firm specializing in bamboo design and construction. Located in Bali, Ibuku was offering a two-week course called “Bamboo U(niversity): Build and Design.”

Through vigorous crowdfunding, Watson was able to participate in the program after graduation. During his time in Bali, he learned a tremendous amount about bamboo and the cultures that utilize it. He also solidified personal and professional connections to community leaders and industry experts involved in the bamboo sector of architecture.

In Bali, Watson learned of another opportunity to enhance his understanding of bamboo and move forward with his career: Humanitarian Bamboo. This is an open source project designed to bridge the gap between humanitarian response specialists and bamboo experts to produce best practice guidelines and technical briefs on how to use bamboo effectively in post-disaster humanitarian response. Watson eventually spoke to the project leader, David Hodgkin, over dinner in Bali.

Hodgkin started the project in response to his observations of disaster relief after a 2006 earthquake in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. He developed a team of stakeholders who organize international forums, evaluations, and trainings to develop guidelines for the use of bamboo in disaster relief efforts.

Through his experience in Bali, Watson said, “I learned there is a major difference between assistance and development in the humanitarian world. Humanitarian development is what people usually imagine when they think of disaster relief, which is temporary housing solutions on a mass scale, but humanitarian assistance is focused on long-term solutions.”

Given his deep interest in this type of work, Watson was thrilled when he was invited to join the Humanitarian Bamboo team in Central Java, Indonesia for six months, beginning this May. Eager to contribute to making a lasting impact on communities there, Watson recently launched his second crowdfunding campaign to make the trip a reality.

“(Humanitarian Bamboo) appealed to me most because it was about helping a culture improve its situation permanently,” Watson said.

To learn more about his trip to Bali and plan for Central Java, visit his website:

Mathew Watson, right, female on left, with bamboo
Pictured is Alfred State graduate Mathew Watson developing his understanding of bamboo construction
through observation and application.