Sunday, November 26, 2017

We visit the Panyaden International School

When one travels in SE Asia, one sees a lot of bamboo — it's literally everywhere. It's used for furniture, fences, walls, flooring, scaffolding, ladders, houses —  and even made into cloth. I've seen pictures of bamboo scaffolding on the Internet that extends many stories above the ground (see for some impressive examples), up to and including skyscrapers. It's also used to support concrete floor forms during all types of construction from the smallest home to the largest buildings. The rural poor often live in houses constructed entirely of bamboo. The school we visited in September, the Panyaden International School, (Wikipedia has more) also uses bamboo extensively but the construction is both unique and beautiful. The main materials fabrication site for the outfit that designed and built the school, Chiangmai Life Construction, is situated on the nearby Canal Road so we visited that as well to learn how they process the bamboo to prevent devastation from Thailand's many wood-eating insects.
Panyaden Meeting Hall
Panyaden Meeting Hall — Interior
Panyaden Meeting Hall — Interior detail
Note use of rope and dowels instead of bolts or nails
Panyaden Meeting Hall — Interior detail

Panyaden School Canteen with bamboo tables & benches

The Panyaden School is a model of sustainable building practices and has won awards because of its innovative use of bamboo and rammed-earth construction. (see this Wikipedia article for more.) Below is a shot of the exterior of a bathroom. Classrooms are done in much the same way. Rammed-earth walls have significant thermal storage capacity which keeps them cool during the daytime — classrooms need not be air-conditioned.

Panyaden is a so-called "international school", which means coursework is presented in both English and Thai each of which is used about 50% of the time; each class has a Thai teacher and fluent English-speaking teacher. It offers education from nursery school to Grade 6. Tuition involves a substantial outlay ranging from 81K baht per term for K-1 and K-2 to about 103K baht for grades 6 and 7. At the current exchange rate of 35 baht per USD that works out to approximately $2300 and $2940 USD per term or $4600 and $5900 USD per year. There is another 10K baht ($285 USD) required per term for a Capital Improvements fee and a one-time admission fee of 40K baht ($1143 USD). This cost is well beyond the reach of many people. Considering that the average Thai worker makes only about 300-400 baht PER DAY it's pretty obvious that only the well-heeled can afford to send their kids to Panyaden.

Curious about the preparation of the bamboo, we visited Chiangmai Life Construction (CLC) to learn how they do it. None of the workers spoke any English but from the empty bags lying about, I determined that the bamboo is insect-proofed by soaking it in a solution of boric acid for up to two weeks. Termites and other insect pests will destroy anything made of wood in short order if it's not treated in any way. Apparently, the acid soak does a pretty good job because CLC claims a life-span of 50 years for their buildings.

Workers removing bamboo slats from acid bath
Rolls of sun-dried bamboo roofing slats
The processing facility is housed in three or four open-air buildings. The workers don't wear much in the way of protective clothing, typical for Thailand, and what becomes of the used boric acid solution is anyone's guess. Thailand is about 40 years behind Europe and North America in terms of environmental awareness. Construction workers wear flip-flops on their feet, I've never seen ear protection of any kind and welders commonly use sunglasses when arc-welding. Thais will block their faces from the sun using hats, umbrellas, ski masks, or whatever they have in their hands at the time, even while driving a motorcycle, yet they arc-weld without eye protection.

The CLC offices and demonstration buildings at the site are made of bamboo and rammed earth and some feature the bird motif we saw earlier at the Panyaden School. CLC makes and sells bamboo furniture similar to what we saw at the school. I was reminded of the many homes built by Frank Lloyd Wright in which everything inside, from lights and draperies to furniture, was of his own unified design.  I was tempted to buy a chair but successfully fought off the urge. Still, the furniture is sturdy and, like everything else we saw, unique and attractive.

CLC office with bird motif roof treatment

Open-air sala for your backyard?

Whether this sort of construction will ever become widespread is unknown but our visit was interesting and instructive. I do like the look of that chair and may eventually go back to buy it yet.