Bamboo has long been used in the East as a cheap and strong building material, both for permanent structures and temporary erections like scaffolding. Bamboo can grow 1.2 metres in a day but at one time its susceptibility to termites had it labelled as a poor man’s building material. Now, improvements in preservative treatments and the global trend toward renewable resources with low carbon footprints are making bamboo developments an international status symbol.

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Asian countries including India and China recently reaffirmed their commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement. To meet carbon emission targets countries like India, China and Malaysia will need to make heavy use of indigenous renewables like bamboo.

Prestigious beginnings

Although China has had ornate bamboo bridges for centuries, none of them were safe for modern traffic until 2007 when, according to China Daily it constructed the first truck-safe bamboo road bridge in the world. The bridge can safely handle a load of 90 tons.

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In March of 2017 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a country that is showing signs of transforming into a growth economy after many years of poverty, constructed the world’s first all-bamboo cell phone tower in just 12 days. A traditional steel tower would have taken more than twice as long and cost substantially more. The Bangladesh University of Engineering cooperated with Malaysian development giant Edotco to build it, and the company has promised more bamboo projects in Dhaka with others soon to follow in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

Manasaram Architects from India are another strong advocate of bamboo and have chosen it for Bangalore’s much celebrated new Metro station as well as in smaller projects that include public toilets in New Delhi. A spokesperson pointed out that bamboo is ideal in areas that are subject to typhoons and earthquakes. Being lighter, bamboo structures are unlikely to kill anyone if they do happen to collapse. Nearly all fatalities in earthquakes are caused by collapsing concrete and brick buildings.

Tensile structures

In the west, companies that already specialise in low weight fabric structures are also enthusiastically combining it with bamboo (see for example http://fabricarchitecture.com/). Properly harvested and treated with borax, it more than adequately matches the weather and decay resistance of traditional materials.

Although most bamboo is currently imported from south America, in future it could easily be grown in the British climate.