Editor’s Desk: Bamboo
Eco-Ethical Building Material With Deep Roots
Bamboo isn’t a new building material. In fact, it’s one of the world’s oldest building materials. In China, bamboo is a symbol of virtue and harmony between nature and humans. Thousands of years ago, the Chinese began using bamboo in construction, from stilt houses to scaffolding to rooftops. Several groups in China continue this architectural legacy to this day. For architects looking to marry form and function, while simultaneously employing one of the world’s most venerable building materials, bamboo is your champion.
Bamboo is resilient, lightweight, and harnesses an impressive elasticity. Its fiber and compressive strengths are on par, or stronger, than concrete, and its tensile strength is close to steel. It can be curved without easily breaking, and has a shear stress higher than wood. To be fair, bamboo is susceptible to fungus and insects, and there can be environmental effects from the preservation methods that are used. Thankfully, there has been progress in the implementation of safe, natural treatment solutions. Bamboo is an incredibly quick-growing plant, and it has the potential of helping to foster a more eco-friendly construction climate. While other woods can take decades to mature, bamboo is harvestable in as little as three years.
Bamboo is ultimately an ideal building material, so why aren’t we using it more often? Honestly, bamboo has a PR problem. For some time, modern builders considered it a cheap, undesirable alternative to timber and other options such as concrete, brick, and steel. With the onslaught of the contemporary climate change narrative, however, builders and designers are refocusing on bamboo as a quick-to-harvest, reliable, and sustainable option.
Deforestation has been an ongoing crisis in the construction materials world, and with the post-pandemic supply chain crunch, it’s only getting harder to find top-quality timber. Beginning in the late 1990s, a reforestation program was launched with the intention of restoring more of the world’s green landscape and encouraging biodiversity. Because of this initiative, there has been a boom in the bamboo sector.
It’s not going to be an immediate shift from steel to bamboo, but researchers, such as those at the Future Cities Laboratory, are looking into combining bamboo fiber with other materials to create a composite alternative to steel and timber. Small structures have been utilizing bamboo for thousands of years, but with the advent of new fungus and pest treatments, as well as composite bamboo options, larger buildings and multi-story homes can be on the horizon.