Bamboo: Nature’s Ideal Building Material?


Sometimes, the best materials in the built environment come from the natural environment.

Kent Harries, of the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, thinks bamboo certainly fits the bill—and a recent symposium he held ended with a call to make the material more common and easier to use.

The Symposium on Bamboo in the Urban Environment, held last month in Pittsburgh, was part of an initiative put together by the U.S. State Department and the British Council, and was organized with help from Coventry University in the U.K., and the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR).

The idea was to look at bamboo as a construction material, sustainable and in some cases more durable than man-made materials.

The event, which the university says brought players from 14 countries and territories, included presentations on materials testing, codes and standards, engineered bamboo, and international applications and education. Research on fire resistance in bamboo and strength grading of the material was presented.

Earthquake Resistant

Of special interest to symposium attendees: Bamboo’s performance in earthquake situations.

INBAR reports that after the April 16 earthquake in Ecuador, many bamboo structures remained standing even as concrete buildings crumbled.

The organization says bamboo has played a crucial role in the rebuilding in Nepal after the April 2015 quake there.

'Pittsburgh Declaration'

The symposium ended with participants signing what they call the “Pittsburgh Declaration,” a call to action for researchers, companies and governmental entities worldwide.

Bamboo house construction
By J'ai créé ce fichier, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As a construction material, the symposium attendees note bamboo is sustainable and in some cases more durable than man-made materials.

Bamboo grows quickly, leading symposium attendees to note in the declaration that it is “among the most rapidly renewable structural materials in the world.”

“When used in its untransformed culm-form,” the document goes on, “bamboo has a smaller environmental impact than any other conventional structural material, including timber.”

New Standards

The declaration calls for specific goals to be met, including the establishment of a new International Standards Organization design standard for round culm bamboo, and new ISO technical and working groups addressing bamboo and rattan.

“The time has come for a renewed, concerted international effort to establish a full pathway to appropriate standardization for bamboo,” the declaration reads.

It also calls for advanced economies like the U.S. and U.K. to join INBAR, which currently includes 41 states, most in southern Asia, Africa and South America.

“Our continuing research at Pitt and other institutions have shown bamboo is one of nature’s perfect building materials, and is primed for greater international use,” said Harries. “As the global population continues to increase and the threat of natural and climate disasters threaten greater numbers of people, bamboo is especially poised to become our go-to material for emergency shelters.”


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Building Envelope; Building materials; Colleges and Universities; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; North America; Research; Sustainability

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