Bamboo is highly regarded as a reliable, renewable and versatile building material in many tropical regions. The plant is one of the world's oldest natural building materials and serves as an important resource for sustainable building in today's eco-conscious world.
In Asia and South America, where bamboo grows natively, it has been used as a primary building material in homes, especially in rural areas. Supplanted by timber, concrete and steel, the plant is not usually first choice when it comes to building modern homes. However, in the search for green-building solutions, bamboo is a good example of a sustainable building material that can be used in a multitude of ways, including flooring, structural support and even scaffolding.
Bamboo has a number of properties that make it an ideal building material:
- Bamboo is fast-growing (a full harvest can be obtained after one to two years once maturity is reached).
- Bamboo is strong (it has higher tensile strength than steel).
- Bamboo's elasticity makes it a good building material in earthquake-prone areas.
- Bamboo's light weight makes shipping inexpensive and construction easier.
Like timber, bamboo can be subject to rot and infestation. However, ecologically sound treatment processes such as a borax coating help preserve the bamboo.
Similar to engineered hardwood, engineered bamboo refers to natural bamboo that has been cut into thin strips and glued back together to form wide panels. Widely used for flooring, engineered bamboo is durable, resilient and (depending on the manufacturing process) harder than many hardwoods. Besides being used for flooring, engineered bamboo can also be used in the manufacturing of wall panels, window slats and other structural elements of a building.
In 2013, the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) organised the Bamboo Construction for Inclusive and Green Development workshop, during which Dr. Juan Francisco Correal Daza presented research suggesting that "bamboo panel products may be superior to equivalent wood products in terms of their physical and mechanical properties, as well as their seismic performance."
There are a number of examples in which bamboo has been used for modern green building.
Vo Trong Nghia Architects, a Vietnamese architectural firm, is behind the Diamond Island Community Hall, Vietnam Pavilion at Expo Milano and Son La Restaurant. These developments all make extensive use of bamboo as a primary building material.
Colombian architect Simón Vélez is a pioneer in the use of bamboo as a modern building material. Vélez overcame the problem of joining lengths of bamboo together by filling the hollow cores of his native guadua bamboo with cement. Using this technique, he is able to build towering structures with wide spans. In a recent interview, Velez said, "Since bamboo generally has extraordinary tensile strength, I can say from my experience that any type of architectural structure that can be built in steel can also be built with guadua bamboo."
Vélez gained international recognition after he was commissioned to build a 2000-square-metre bamboo pavilion for the Zero Emissions Research and Initiative Foundation at the Expo Hannover 2000. Recent projects under his belt include the Crosswaters Ecolodge and Spa in China and the (Nomadic Museum) in Mexico. At 5000 square metres, it is the world's largest bamboo structure.
Both as an engineered product and in its natural state, bamboo offers a number of advantages as a building material. Fast-growing, cost-effective when compared to other building materials, versatile in its uses and, above all, renewable, bamboo is a favourable material choice for many architects and developers in contemporary design.