Principal Laureate 2009: Simon Velez

In 2009 the theme of the Prince Claus Fund Awards was Culture & Nature. Colombian architect Simon Velez was awarded as principal laureate for his innovative use of bamboo in creating solid and beautiful structures. In addition to reflecting its strong roots in vernacular Colombian architecture, Velez’s use of bamboo also creates buildings which are appropriate for even the most difficult of weather conditions. It is the combination of innovation, traditional references and sustainability which make his buildings such an important contribution to contemporary architecture. For the Prince Claus Fund this combination was crucial in deciding upon its principal laureate. The theme Culture & Nature was chosen for its relevance in the contemporary circumstances of continuous climate change. The consequences of climate change are of growing prominence in daily life, affecting human being’s cultural and social environments. Velez developed an ecologically sound construction system for the architectural use of bamboo, without losing his signature motif of high and elaborate roofs. The result is a combination of scientific innovation and aesthetic principles, which in turn also demand attention for the importance of maintaining local botanic and cultural diversity.

Principal Laureate 2009: Simon Velez

"Velez transformed bamboo into a modern source"

Prince Constantijn presents Prins Claus Award to Simon Velez (2009)

Simon Velez (in Amsterdam) on his work

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Image Drawing Fort Lauderdale

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Simón Vélez

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Simón Vélez

Background Information

Simon Velez was born in Manizales, Colombia in 1949. He completed his studies at Universidad de Los Andes in Bogota, where the main architectural focus had a modernist character. Bauhaus and Corbusier were the predominant themes in his education. However, Velez started to explore indigenous architecture, the use of traditional materials and the presence of cultural diversity in the streets of Colombia. When using bamboo in an architectural commission, Velez simultaneously explored structural possibilities of a local species of bamboo named guadua. With his partner Marcelo Villegas, Velez invented a revolutionizing joinery method, a new system of structural support, and more appropriate methods for foundations and roofing. This transforms bamboo into a modern resource, which is extremely suitable to be used for all kinds of buildings, due to its elasticity especially for earthquake-prone regions. In addition to this Velez has developed an aesthetic which is appealing to a large audience and which has proven suitable for many different types of buildings.

 

Bamboo grows in a wide range of climates, also in developing countries, so here building materials are provided in the natural surroundings. Its cultivation and processing are ecologically sound and sustainable, and it is one of the best plants for absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It grows very rapidly, after a year bamboo can have reached 15 meters. After four years it has matured and is at its strongest. Compared to other building materials, bamboo is light, flexible and has a high degree of elasticity. In his use of bamboo, Velez first fills the end sections of the bamboo canes which are to be bound with concrete, in which he places metal elements parallel to the run of the cane. Different parts can be connected using the metal links. As a result, a great proportion of the force which subjects the end of the cane is transferred to the sturdy dividing walls of the canes. Normally hollow canes are subject to splintering, but with this construction that is avoided. The connections can also be dismantled or adjusted, an appreciated additional feature for buildings in earthquake-prone regions.

 

His oeuvre consists of different types of buildings, amongst others the Nomadic Museum in Mexico City, an ecotourism lodge in the Nankun Mountains, China, an energy-efficient retail store in Giradot, Colombia and the ZERI Pavilion for Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany. The buildings are located all around the world and the Prince Claus Award means international recognition for Velez’s contribution to architecture. Unintentionally, Velez’s work gave him political influence when Colombia’s president blocked a bill on the banning the use of bamboo as building material that was about to be passed. The president took this decision following the announcement that Velez had been awarded as principal laureate. Subsequently Velez was involved in drawing up a new bill in which bamboo is allowed as building material.

 

Velez defines himself as a “roof architect. I design the roof first and then what comes beneath it. (…) My architecture is tropical architecture. In a country where it rains a lot, you have to build roofs with large overhangs like in Chinese or Indonesian architecture. Learning about Indonesian architecture was a radical development in my life – these huge bamboo roofs built without any restraint or reserve. Influenced by Corbusier’s Modulor, I always thought that a roof or a room should not exceed a certain height. But in Indonesia, poor folk build roofs with their own hands that are 10 or 15 meters high! It’s a cultural statement: to create something momentous – a sort of exhibitionism without showing off. (Grow Your own House, p.59) Velez related these traditions to the vernacular architecture of Colombia and visualized this with an inventive use of bamboo. In comparison with architect Frank Gehry, Velez feels they have similar outlooks on the prominence of roofs. “Only with Gehry, you never quite know where the roof ends and the wall starts.” Velez “could never do a complicated floor plan.” He knows how bring balance into the buildings, monumental grandeur in combination with sustainability. This balance is exactly what makes Velez’s buildings so distinctive.

Prince Claus Awards

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The Prince Claus Awards honour outstanding achievements in the field of culture and development. The awards are presented annually to 11 individuals or organisations whose cultural actions have a positive impact on the development of their societies.

Beauty in Context

The Prince Claus Fund researches and analyses beauty in various environments and circumstances. The concept of beauty is indefinable, yet appealing to every individual. In international circles it is often considered to be elitist and undemocratic, as it is so culturally and socially related. However, the feelings connected to experiencing beauty are crucial in people’s daily lives. Therefore one of the Prince Claus Fund’s major themes is titled Beauty in Context. Because in the most challenging and complicated circumstances, beauty can still be of defining importance. 

Tags

Colombia, 2009, Simon Velez, Principal Laureate, Awards, Culture & Nature, Architecture, Bamboo, Construction, Innovation, Pavilion, Expo 2000, Sustainability

Principal Laureate 2009: Simon Velez

In 2009 the theme of the Prince Claus Fund Awards was Culture & Nature. Colombian architect Simon Velez was awarded as principal laureate for his innovative use of bamboo in creating solid and beautiful structures. In addition to reflecting its strong roots in vernacular Colombian architecture, Velez’s use of bamboo also creates buildings which are appropriate for even the most difficult...

 
 
 
 

Principal Laureate 2009: Simon Velez

In 2009 the theme of the Prince Claus Fund Awards was Culture & Nature. Colombian architect Simon Velez was awarded as principal laureate for his innovative use of bamboo in creating solid and beautiful structures. In addition to reflecting its strong roots in vernacular Colombian architecture, Velez’s use of bamboo also creates buildings which are appropriate for even the most difficult...