Meet the designer creating mansions out of Bamboo

Elora Hardy is the Bali-based designer crafting extraordinary castles out of Bamboo.

High in the misty mountains of Ubud in Bali sits a towering six-storey mansion made from bamboo. This jungle home looks as if it has been plucked straight out of a fairytale, but it came from the mind of designer Elora Hardy. “If you didn’t know what a house looked like, what would you build?” questions Elora. Her answer to that is rooftops shaped like the petals of a lotus flower to catch the tropical breeze, a teardrop-shaped door that spins on its axis and a lounge chair that hangs from the ceiling like a bird’s nest.

Elora Hardy
Elora Hardy © Suki Zoe

Elora’s connection to Bali

As a child, Elora drew fairytale castles in her colouring book; and now, at the age of 43, she gets to make them for real. She grew up in the wilds of Ubud, living with her artistic parents. She would take Balinese dance lessons and plant rice in her own grain field. “My earliest memory of Bali was my fifth birthday party. I remember making scarecrows out of thatch, coconut shells and bamboo, and parading them up to the fields,” says Elora.

She left Bali at the age of 14 to go to boarding school in the United States. She then went to Tufts University where she graduated in fine arts, not architecture. This means that she’s not saddled with ideas of what should be done, but rather what could be done.

Pushing the boundaries of design

Elora’s boundary-pushing designs have gathered her numerous accolades, including being named a Royal Designer for Industry in 2019 by the Royal Society of Arts. Other designers who have been awarded this honour include the late and great Dame Vivienne Westwood and former Apple designer Sir Jonathan Ive.

Bambu Indah
Bambu Indah © Stefano Scata

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The Green Village

While Elora was working for fashion designer Donna Karan in New York, her father, John Hardy, sold his namesake jewellery business and decided to build a school in Bali. But rather than build it with bricks and mortar, he chose to create the Green School with eco-friendly bamboo. He had plans to create a village to surround the school, but sadly Elora’s father’s creative director passed away before the first home was finished. John asked Elora if she could help. In 2010, she left New York, returned to Bali and went on to launch the pioneering architectural firm Ibuku.

Elora may now be creating out-of-this-world designs, but the first home that she built in Bali had far more humble beginnings. “My dad had a patch of forested farmland where he had been raising traditional black pigs. I fell in love with the outlook over the rice fields. I built myself a latticed room inspired by a yurt, but raised on stilts,” she says.

Then, from her wall-less, grass-roofed office in Ubud, Elora – with the help of her team of architects and engineers – built 12 bamboo mansions for the Green Village. Each wild grass castle that she made was more outlandish than the last.

Working with bamboo

Elora says that every 18-metre-long strand of bamboo leads the design. Collected from ravines on family-owned farms, no two pieces are the same. It may be wild grass, but Elora says it’s a phenomenal building material. It has the tensile strength of steel and takes just three years to grow to maturity. “Bamboo constantly requires flexibility, new ways of thinking, and demands bespoke attention to be best expressed,” she explains.

Dr Seuss-like Sharma Springs
Dr Seuss-like Sharma Springs © Rio Helmi

As it’s so unique, Elora says her first attempts at creating rooms within the homes felt too conventional. “The high roofs and leaning columns made walls impractical and even inappropriate, so we had to reconsider everything and truly think in 3D,” she says. Elora needed to create windows, door frames and even light fittings that matched the form of the bamboo poles. “Things that make sense against white or stone walls just looked odd against a curving bamboo screen,” she says.

Elora always keeps the environment in mind. If there are trees on-site, she builds around them. “My father says, ‘Who are we to take them down?’” The eco-architect also adds other sustainable aspects to her homes, such as rainwater filtering stations, solar power and permaculture food gardens.

Sharma Springs

When Elora built the Green Village, she created perhaps one of her most well-known homes: the six-storey, Dr Seuss-like Sharma Springs. Guests can now follow a light-filled tunnel into the designer residence, with far-reaching views of the jungle. A spiral staircase leads you to a grand living space and five luxury bedrooms. Designed to immerse you in nature, the home is largely wall-free. But Elora hasn’t forgotten the needs of a modern family, including a media room and bedrooms that have chilled air piped in via bamboo posts. The glamour continues in the grounds, with a guest room, private pool and massage sala. The family who owns the home now rents it to holidaymakers for close to $2,000 per night on Airbnb

Sharma Springs bamboo House
Sharma Springs © Rio Helmi

Going global

While Elora started her work in Bali, her designs can now be seen across the globe. She has built treehouses in Panama, an event space in Las Vegas, and a bamboo restaurant in Hong Kong. Her most recent work includes the Sunset Bar at her father and stepmother’s hotel, Bambu Indah in Ubud, where she installed a bamboo elevator.

Defit Wijaya, who is head of architecture for Ibuku, says it’s Elora’s fresh outlook that takes her designs to the next level. “It is amazing how she connects all the dots into becoming an Ibuku design experience. She has an eagle eye and can spot the tiniest details that may need improvement,” he says.

Elora says the secret to her design success might have first been spotted by one of her schoolfriends: “My high school roommate called me a realist with my head in the clouds.”