1930 – 2014
Oscar Hidalgo was born in a town called Chinchina on the 16th of November in 1930. In this town, it was very common to build houses from local bamboo (the Guadua). His father was an odonotologist and his mother was dedicated to child care at home. He had a brother named Fernando who also became an architect, who sadly passed away ten years ago. He has a step-brother named Fabian. who wanted to bring Oscar to this event today but unfortunately Oscar’s health prevents him from traveling.
Oscar studied at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and graduated as an Architect. Immediately after graduation, Oscar worked locally for several years until leaving for the United States in order to teach at Parsons School of Design in New York City. A pioneer in art and design education since its founding in 1896, Parsons has cultivated outstanding artists, designers, scholars, businesspeople, and community leaders for more than a century. During the years Oscar was at Parsons, the school programs began to encourage students to work on more socially conscious projects, such as public housing, alternatives to substandard urban housing, etc. The philosophy at Parsons during and since Oscar’s tenure there emphatically championed art and design as both intellectual practice and social responsibility. This is apparent in the evolution of Oscar’s work.
Growing up in Chinchina, surrounded by houses made of bamboo, Oscar watched as bamboo was used for many residential and public buildings. It was cheap and widely available, and was hidden behind plaster exteriors. After his education in architecture, he was further intrigued by the possibilities of bamboo. He embarked on a project to construct a country club kiosk 23 meters in diameter using bamboo. Five days before the opening ceremony, there was a hurricane which extremely distorted the building, moving the kingpost 90 cm off-center. After only two hours of working with a winch, however, the structure was successfully moved back into place without collapsing. Seeing this, he was sold on bamboo.
In 1960, when the Guadua were on the brink of extinction due to the intensive destruction of the natural bamboo plantations which began in the 1950’s, it was the Colombian Institute of Natural Resources (INDERENA) that forbade the cutting of bamboo without its permission. Fortunately today the natural Guadua forests are protected, managed and respected; no doubt thanks to people like Oscar. He later worked for the giant global contractor, Bechtel for 13 years, and as an inspiring teacher and researcher at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. He founded the Bamboo Research Center (CIBAM). He worked as a consultant in Ecuador and Costa Rica for the United Nations, as well as consultant for the Acuerdo de Cartagnea PADT-REFORT in Peru and Bolivia. His research took him to libraries in several universities, including Washington University in Canada, Columbia University in New York, and the University of California in Berkeley. Architect
Oscar Hidalgo set out and dedicated his life to bamboo research, teaching the world about the limitless possibilities of this remarkable plant. “With bamboo we can replace wood or timber in all their applications, but we cannot use wood or timber to make all the things and structures that can only be made with bamboo.” (Hidalgo, 2003) Amazed at its structural integrity and aesthetic possibilities, he traveled extensively throughout the United States, Germany, Japan, Philippines, Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Brazil, India and elsewhere to study and teach, to experiment and explore. Everywhere he went, he inspired and influenced many students of architecture and design, builders and engineers.
In 2003, Oscar Hidalgo published an incredible book entitled, Bamboo – The Gift of the Gods. Essentially it is a testament of his life’s discoveries involving his study of bamboo; as a plant, its taxonomy, ecology, silviculture, mechanical and chemical properties, the role of preservation and protection in its durability, its use in traditional uses and handicrafts, manufacture of modern products and materials, bamboo construction technologies, engineering potentials, and modern possibilities. It is a triumph to his dedication and commitment. It is standing proof of his bamboo pioneering spirit.