Designing sustainable bamboo housing in Lombok

Ramboll is teaching safe house design throughout rural Lombok to enable local communities to build their own earthquake resistant houses. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

An islan​d in crisis

In 2018, the island of Lombok was struck by several earthquakes of up to 7 on the Richter scale. These events had a catastrophic effect on local communities, leaving over 500 dead, 129,000 damaged houses and 445,000 people homeless. I visited Lombok shortly after the disaster at the request of Lombok based NGO Grenzeloos Milieu (which translates to Limitless or Infinite Environment​). What I saw had a profound effect on me.

Villages were flattened with bricks and rubble scattered all around, while in many cases the building foundations were all that remained. Though this was not an unusually powerful earthquake for the region, lack of reinforcement in the buildings meant the damage, and consequential loss of life, was far greater than it should have been. What I found even more disturbing was that communities had already started rebuilding with the same absence of structural integrity that had existed in the destroyed buildings! They were not build​ing houses, they were building death traps.

As an engineer, I believe that engineering design can save lives, and here is a situation where we can use our knowledge and expertise to show local communities how to create their own safer, better future. If local builders can be shown how they can use locally sourced, sustainable materials, they can create affordable structures in harmony with the island without harming the fragile local environment. They can do it quickly and, suitably trained, they can show other islanders how it can be done.

T​he Project

We will spread safe house design throughout rural Lombok. We’ll achieve this by building a set of 3 template houses to show what is possible. We’ll run educational workshops so the required technical expertise exists in the community, and we will create a step-by-step design guide. Local communities will be able to easily build the houses unassisted, promoting adoption across the island.

Template Houses

We identified a bamboo semi-permanent shelter as the best solution to the crisis. Bamboo is readily available, affordable, sustainable, presents good seismic performance and there is a pool of skilled local labour in vernacular bamboo construction techniques. Ramboll is aiming to build three sample houses in three different villages to promote their adoption and replication across the island.​


To ensure the template houses are replicable, the construction process will be accompanied by workshops explaining key points of the design. This engagement will build trust and educate people in principles of structural safety. Workshop material will be prepared by Ramboll volunteers in the UK, while the workshops and NGO training will be delivered by volunteers in the field.

Design g​uide

To enable dissemination of knowledge and ensure the safe repetition of the template bamboo house design, Ramboll will produce a visual design guide explaining how to construct these houses safely. The design guide will be prepared in the UK.

Con​tinuing cross-Ramboll commitment

The response within Ramboll has been fantastic. Since the Making a Difference Network has been involved we have had a host of volunteers, at all grades and from across the UK, offering expertise in every discipline we required. Volunteers are also contributing to the project in their own time. This enthusiasm has been matched by Ramboll UK who have backed the project, both financially and in underwriting volunteers’ time. The willingness of everyone at Ramboll to collaborate for the wider good has been inspirational and I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed.

Work has begun on the house design and workshop preparation. Teams of Ramboll volunteers will travel to Lombok in September to oversee construction of the sample houses.

Marcin Dawydzik

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