Bamboo in Architecture: How a grass is Becoming the ‘Green Steel’ of the 21st Century
- Why Bamboo
- How its Used in Architecture
- Building Examples
- Final Thoughts
The ancient grass has undertaken something of a transformation in the last 10 years. While being incredibly easy to grow and available in abundance in tropical areas, it was seen primarily as the 'poor man's steel' and often shunned in favour of expensive steels and metals.
For centuries, houses, structures, scaffolding and much more were whipped together with bamboo. However in the last 10 years, with the world reeling from the shock of the looming climate crisis, more and more architects and builders are opting to use bamboo in building projects.
Due to the incredibly sustainable characteristics of the grass, its immense strength and pleasing aesthetics, bamboo is quickly becoming one of the first materials on the list for eco-friendly building projects - both large and small.
Today we look at the reasons for bamboo’s resurgence in construction on its way to slowly being known as the ‘green steel’ of the 21st century.
More and more people are discovering that bamboo is one of the most useful raw materials on planet earth.
This is nothing new to people from tropical countries but the growth of bamboo in the west is largely due to the changing public perception, the need to go 'green' due to climate change and also because of its incredible characteristics making it ideal for certain applications.
Some of the reasons why bamboo is popping up everywhere are:
Speed of growth
Bamboo grows fast. Really fast.
Depending on the species, bamboo has been recorded as growing more than 3 feet in 24 hours. That’s around 1’5 inch (3.8cm) an hour. It’s common for people who live in tropical areas to sit down for lunch in their backyard or at a cafe and literally watch it growing before their eyes.
Because of the speed of growth, maturity is reached much faster than most other wood materials used in building. For a comparison, cork oak trees take 20-25 years before they can be harvested for the first time and the quality of the cork from the first harvest is pretty poor.
Cork that is commonly found in wine stoppers is usually harvested from oaks at least 40-50 years old. Compared to cork, bamboo grows and matures at light speed and can be harvested more or less every year depending on the species.
Bamboo is also one of the strongest materials on the planet, stronger than steel you could argue.
Bamboo has tensile strength of around 28,000 psi (pounds per square inch) and mild steel is around 23,000 psi. Tensile strength is the ability to resist being pulled apart, which bamboo is one of the best in business at.
It also has a higher compression rate than concrete which is astounding.
The amazing feats of strength are due to bamboo’s ability to bend which it uses throughout the course of its normal lifespan by growing to a height of 60m with the same size footprint at the top as the bottom.
While the exact percentage is often debated, the fact that bamboo produces a great deal more oxygen than most trees isn't.
30-35% more according to researchers
Renewable / Sustainable
It’s also an incredibly renewable resource and it achieves its champion green status in a few ways.
Reshoots During Harvest
Firstly, it reshoots and grows while being harvested and replants itself essentially. The leaves and nutrients needed to replenish and reproduce are dropped and provided by the plant itself which means it’s reproduces like rabbits.
Easy to Grow
It’s also very to grow in the correct climate and soil which reduces the maintenance and care required to get new plants healthy and mature.
- Cost of use
- Ease of use
Need to check the above points but something like that I think.
Use it all
Every part of bamboo can be used and it also does this without producing any waste. Nice work bamboo, hats off.
Bamboo is no slouch when it comes to doing its bit for the environment either. The grass absorbs around 30% more carbon dioxide than standard trees which can mean using bamboo can actually be carbon neutral.
Carbon it takes to harvest, transport, process and use. Then minus the carbon is removes from the atmosphere and there you get to be carbon neutral.
How its Used in Construction
Bamboo's use in construction can be for structure, flooring and for interiors but it's the use in structure which is important in order for bamboo to be considered a real alternative to steel and timber.
Bamboo's strength, flexibility and availability have made it the primary building material for large groups of the population for hundreds of years.
In Asia, south America it's used for houses, offices, flooring, gardens, products, weapons, export, you name it.
The materials use life-cycle will go something like the below:
As mentioned earlier in the post, bamboo matures after only 3-5 years meaning that the material is readily available for building.
Harvesting is relatively easy compared to wood and doesn't require expensive tools or machines.
The treatment of bamboo is critical to being able to use it in permanent construction projects.
Treatment of bamboo is usually to increase the durability or to protect it from insects and pests.
Untreated bamboo, just like any other wood, is prone to being attacked by insects and pests.
Bamboo is susceptible to termites, beetles and other insects that can quickly reduce your beautiful bamboo poles to dust. To keep pests away the bamboo is often treated with a salt solution which insects can't stomach.
Untreated bamboo typically has a lifespan of 2-4 years or 4-6 years if covered from the elements and kept away from insects.
In order to gain a lifespan beyond 25 years and even up to 100 years it needs to be treated with chemicals such as boric acid which protects against fungi and algae.
The boron solutions are much more environmentally findly than other treatments made of copper and chrome which contain arsenic.
But in the west it's still not used as a mainstream construction material and this is because of a few reasons.
When the bamboo is ready to be used onsite it's transported
Theatres, museums, hotels and getaways. Seen to have a beautiful aesthetic and also known to be one of the greenest materials on the planet, it’s cropping up in more and more large-sca;e design projects.
Green village, Bali
Green Village, Bali
Designer Ming Tang has conceived of these unique structures to act as temporary shelters for victims of any natural disasters.
A bamboo sports hall at Panyaden International School in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Kontum Indochina Cafe by Vo Trong Nghia Architects.
There isn’t anything more sustainable on planet earth than bamboo (huge claim by Michie). Get it in your house and it will look cool and also do the biz for the planet.
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