Bamboo buildings: alternatives to conventional, energy-guzzling concrete

Innovative construction materials such as bamboo can be used without the environment being harmed, a report found

Move over concrete. Stunning bamboo structures are cropping up all over Asia, including in Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand. Bamboo buildings constructed without traditional methods, such as heat or water used to form walls and drive structural sections, can be cheaper, more resilient and cheaper to maintain than traditional concrete ones.

Bamboo structures are brimming over with lifespan and will be up to 25 times cheaper than concrete structures, said Jeff Yass, a professor at London’s City University who was the lead author of a report that warned how environmentally destructive concrete construction is. Bamboo is the most water- and wind-resistant building material known, and doesn’t need to be heated or cooled.

“If you think about the problems with more traditional buildings, buildings that have super-tough concrete … well, the problems are similar to concrete in the environmental sense,” Yass said.

Bamboo can withstand high winds, wind-driven rain, salt air, extreme temperature swings and even earthquakes and tsunamis. The European Space Agency said last year that it might be possible to send astronauts to the moon through the use of a habitat made of living matter, inspired by chimneys and trees.

Bamboo structures are taller and stronger than concrete ones, thanks to stronger bamboo fibres that don’t need to be heat or water heated to be rigid.

In Indonesia, construction companies such as Debel Group and Mimuti Imani have started using bamboo structures on more than 800km (500 miles) of roads and bridges in Java and Sumatra states.

“We are more environmentally sound in designing bamboo and it also keeps the heat away from our buildings,” said Adrissi Iman, head of Debel Group. “This means less heat reaches the ground.”

Bamboo buildings are also cheaper and easier to maintain than concrete ones, said Yass. Bamboo structures are up to 30% more durable. They also take much less time to complete and the structures last a long time.

Bamboo has been used in cities around the world, from New York and Tokyo to San Francisco, for decades. But in recent years, developers have drawn on the versatility of the plant and its powerful properties to set buildings apart from traditional concrete structures.

“Previously, concrete took five to six years to build, but bamboo can be built by artisan workers within 24 hours and the building should last 20 years,” said Gurbachan Lakra, director of concept design and engineering at Mimuti Imani.

Here in the UK, a pilot Bamboo House in Newcastle city centre was recently completed, built using €8m (£7.4m) of public money and a grant from the EU and a further £2.2m in funding from the housebuilder Barratt, Green Building Council England and the scheme’s main contractor.

The main components were constructed using local materials and apprentices from the local community, with more than 40% of the people employed in the project having been trained and equipped with skills. The building is six storeys high, using about 80% bamboo, 16% concrete and 16% steel. It has a sliding roof and walls made of reinforced timber, made from the bark of the Kama tree, the world’s largest flowering tree.

Future projects will include a Parliament building in Leeds and a canteen and the roof of the city’s Cathedral of Learning in Hull. The public sector is also considering replacing stone and brick in its properties with wood and bamboo.

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