sEven though many of us may be familiar with bamboo replacements in our homes, few know about the potential that bamboo has in terms of its large scale implementation.
This is where the real power of bamboo is tested for its strength. One of the main reasons that bamboo is not yet commonly used on the industrial scale is that there is a lack of research on its uses; hence there are no codes and standards when it comes to building with them.
This is why many engineers are not familiar with bamboo construction, and clients will not demand their use, leading to a lack of interest in research, perpetuating the cycle.
In this article, we’ll be introducing five main ways in which bamboo can be implemented on a large scale, in hopes that as we raise more awareness of their potential, there will be greater interest and demand for their implementation.
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Bamboo scaffolding/ Bamboo houses
A wonderful TedxTalk by David Trujillo of Coventry University makes a bold claim that bamboo is the new steel of the 21st century.
In the modern-day world, steel and concrete are the mainstream materials used when it comes to building large architecture in urban areas.
However, the use of these man-made materials carries with it, a tremendous amount of inefficiency and neglect towards the on-going planetary issue of climate change. Bamboo has the potential to replace the use of steel and concrete in construction due to its highly unique structure which makes it just as strong, but with greater efficiency.
For one, their hollow structure makes them much lighter to transport and the fact that its fibres are naturally organized to be stronger at the points which need most strength, make them nature’s best alternative.
Moreover, since they are plants, they are capable of storing a considerable amount of carbon and release only 1/10th of the carbon that would be emitted from the manufacturing of steel that could withstand the same amount of weight.
Aside from this, bamboo has other significant benefits, such as its positive impact on the soil where it grows. The extensive root structure helps manage soil erosion and creates a healthy underground system for other organisms to thrive in.
But perhaps, the most incredible feature of bamboos that distinguish it from other organic building materials such as timber is that it has an extremely short harvest cycle of approximately 3-5 years. This means that once we can change society’s awareness of bamboo usage in construction, we can start implementing their use quite rapidly.
In Hong Kong, bamboo scaffoldings are used frequently in building procedures as they are cheaper and more accessible than using man-made steel or concrete.
Given the global projections of increased urbanization in the upcoming years, our society must begin to open our minds towards using these environmentally friendly alternatives for the various construction projects that will be underway in the next few years.
By the same reasons mentioned above, bamboo has also been used in building bridges, although this is not common yet in the western world.
For example, Jorg Stamm, a German builder specializing in using bamboo as a construction material, has worked extensively on multiple bamboo infrastructure projects.
One of them, the bridge of Coquiyo in Colombia built in 1995, is symbolic of the immense power that bamboo can bring into building projects. The bridge was built as part of a recovery program after a massive flood in the region had wiped out many homes and displaced thousands of people.
The environmental expert and engineer of the governmental organization NASA KIWE which was leading the reconstruction efforts were interested in the use of bamboo to build the bridge of Coquiyo. The final push that enabled them to make the decision to do so was a cost comparison between using bamboo as opposed to metal materials.
Thus, from both an economic and environmental perspective, bamboo triumphs many of the man-made material most frequently used today. The common practice is not necessarily the best!
Jorg Stamm’s creative use and advanced techniques in effectively using bamboo as a sustainable building material have led to further developments of various infrastructures, such as the world-renowned Green School in Bali.
Bamboo fences and Garden Ornaments
Bamboo can also add great aesthetic value to your garden when used as part of a footpath guiding post or to separate flower beds from the lawn.
In many traditional Japanese gardens, for example, bamboo ornaments are extremely common as they create a serene environment of peace and tranquillity. It can often even become a form of artistic expression.
Although the use of bamboo as part of car interiors is nowhere near mainstream yet, there is great potential. Various car makers have started to make models (albeit few) with interiors made of bamboo rather than leather, often as part of a vegan car option.
For example, BMW uses bamboo as part of their dashboard. It maintains the sleek impression of the BMW brand whilst slowly introducing more sustainable materials into their manufacturing plans.
Ford’s Bronco SUV, of which only 150 exist in the world, also features a bamboo interior. The limited number of availability reflects the still small market demand for these alternatives, but as more people become aware of it, demand should grow.
Finally, the Lexus 450 is another example of an iconic eco-friendly interior car design, as multiple parts have been replaced by bamboo materials.
All of these examples show that bamboo is not just for eco-warriors or the sustainability-conscious individuals - they can seamlessly be integrated into the lives of ordinary people who may not pay much attention to sustainability on a day to day basis. It is also a fantastic example that illustrates the potential for bamboo to look luxe and high-class.
The single most prominent feature of bamboos that make them ideal for making wooden boats, as opposed to other types of trees such as oak, is the extremely low density.
Whereas a bamboo would weigh between 5-16 pounds per feet cubed / 80-250kg per meter cubed, the equivalent of oak would weigh 67 pounds / 1072 kg. Given that boats must carry additional load and float on water, using low-density materials are crucial.
When making bamboo boats, as was common in ancient China, the procedure involves working with the natural shape and curvature of the bamboo rather than trying to fix it into a specific form. The tapering and curvature of individual bamboos are aligned by selecting and attaching ones that fit with another distinct bamboo.
Thus, building bamboo rafts involves a degree of craftsmanship and skill, taking into consideration the purpose of the boat, the required lifespan of the boat, and available resources.
It is also not unusual to see bamboo boats that are not made from solely attaching bamboo sticks, but from weaving together bamboo, and then using bamboo framing to strengthen it. In Vietnam, these woven bamboo boats are simply coated with either varnish or tar to waterproof it.
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How many of these large scale bamboo uses did you know about? Looking into these industrial-scale applications of bamboo can be extremely fascinating as it shows just how much potential this material has.
As the global population continues to increase, it becomes all the more important to accommodate demands on a larger scale and future engineers, designers, architects must come together with an open mind towards incorporating natural materials.
Likewise, the rest of us can also make a difference by just raising awareness and informing people of all the potential that bamboo has.
Article By Monami Miyamoto
Monami is a London based student and sustainability enthusiast. Having grown up in South East Asia with a Japanese background she has seen, first hand, the various applications & potential of bamboo products and hopes to share it with the world.