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Bamboo ‘roller-coaster’ bistro is shaped for relaxation on campus

There are sure signs it’s almost summer at N.C. State University: Magnolia trees are fragrantly in bloom, Canada geese and their offspring are vacationing on campus greenways – and students from Will Hooker’s Landscape Design studio have built a new bamboo sculpture in front of Kilgore Hall.

“This piece is the re-do of what has become known as the ‘bistro’ in front of Kilgore.  We have redone it now for the fourth time, with each rendition lasting two to three years,” said Hooker, professor of Landscape Design in the Horticultural Science Department, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “We do these bamboo building projects as a means to give the students in our Landscape Design program in Horticultural Science the experience of actually going through a construction process.”

A student concentrates on the assembly of the structure.

This year, 12 students in Hooker’s HS 400 Landscape Design studio took part in the project — nine from the Landscape Design program, two from the Landscape Architecture Department and one from Duke’s Environmental Studies Program in the Nicholas School for the Environment, he said. “We also had the help for one day from eight students in a landscape construction studio in our department and from a student in UNC’s Department of Anthropology.”

The large sculpture is like a tropical fence enclosing sitting niches — but that “fence,” with its rising arcs and descending curves formed by varying lengths of  bamboo posts, immediately suggests one vivid association. “Most people who see the piece for the first time say that it reminds them of a roller coaster, so we’ve taken to calling it the ‘Roller Coaster Bistro,’ ” Hooker said of the design, which evolved as a result of combining a number of ideas from the class.

A pre-construction sketch of the bamboo bistro.

If the geese did a fly-over, they’d see a shape somewhat like a very large three-leaf clover.  Each of those “leaves” is essentially a sitting area surrounded by the undulating fence. It’s all tied together by a flower sculpture in the middle.

“There are three moon-gate entrances which were intentionally designed to allow any maintenance crews to bring in wheel barrows, etc., for upkeep,” Hooker said. “There is also, in place, from a previous class’ work, a cob (clay, sand and straw) pig’s head named ‘Kirby,’ from whose mouth the fences around the piece flow.

“This juxtaposition is intended to be a ‘koan’ or a Zen riddle, one which has no answer but is simply intended to generate questions.”

The studio group takes a break in the "band shell" section of the bamboo bistro.

There is also a large cabana-like structure to the side of a big table in the piece. “This is being referred to as the ‘band shell’ because of its resemblance to such structures,” Hooker said. “We will be painting this table with a compass rose motif later in the summer and will be painting the rest of the tables and chairs as well, but with those motifs yet to be determined. Later this summer, we will also be planting the three entrances and growing lab lab beans and moon flowers on the band shell. It should be a fun setting on campus for a number of years to come.”

Among the lessons students took away from this project are how the used materials are connected to the Earth, how the materials are connected to each other and how the materials are finished, Hooker said. “Building a simple project like ours, using a free material such as bamboo and working to do so with a group, is a great learning experience. I know that the students involved always enjoy it, and I get lots of feedback from former students when they see the most recent works.”

Hooker (right) says the bistro "should be a fun setting on campus for a number of years to come."

The campus feedback has been good, as well. “So far, we’ve received only rave reviews.  Many folks have mentioned that they simply love it, and others say that it’s their favorite place on campus for lunch,” Hooker said.  “My sense is that people like what we do in this space because it is fun and whimsical rather than cold, sterile and institutional.” – Terri Leith