Filling the Research Gap to Make Bamboo Undeniable

Blog 3

Bamboo Building – Image Courtesy of http://www.ibuku.com

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 1.29.26 PM

Bamboo Reinforced Concrete – Copyright: Professorship of Architecture and Construction Dirk E. Hebel, ETH Zurich / FCL Singapore

Bamboo has been used as a construction material for centuries in many parts of the world. A lot of research has been published to prove the mechanical properties of bamboo are almost as strong as steel, the expensive and non-environmental friendly material. However, today’s advanced construction technology shows that bamboo mainstream market is still limited to the use of scaffolding, and other architectural and decorative surface utilizations.

Some experts say that with a little more research and development, engineered bamboo is likely to become a competitive and sustainable alternative to other conventional structural materials. Nonetheless, I have not seen very much research that really examines two other important principles of bamboo application: (1) How much money an owner could really save and (2) How are the construction method practices of bamboo more effective than that of other materials. By taking into account these aspects, both the those with environmental interests and anyone interested in more cost-effective construction could easily follow the bamboo trend.

I propose two approaches for the pilot project of the bamboo as a construction material study. First, research based on all bamboo construction. Nowadays, more people are interested in the construction of a “Bamboo City”. (See: The Cities of The Future and Futuristic Bamboo City and Bali Bamboo Village) Financial analysis is needed to compare this idea with the conventional affordable building construction techniques in similar location characteristics where the source of bamboo is plenty. It is a good opportunity to provide more houses and buildings or other facilities using bamboo for rural and underdeveloped areas. At the same time, rural areas can generate more creativity; rural areas have more opportunity to implement bamboo as an innovative construction technologies. Second, financial and construction techniques research based on bamboo retrofit for a higher value construction projects in the urbanized area. While steel reinforced concrete is the most common building material, many countries do not have the ability to produce steel, and it cost more to import. Bamboo, engineered or non-engineered, can be an alternative construction component to replace steel reinforcement, wood or other materials for sustainable construction. With a proven study of economic and construction technique advantages of bamboo as an alternative compared to other materials for construction, from foundation to reinforcement to wall to top of the roof, we can expect to see more implementation. Moreover, it may also generate more small and middle-sized companies to contribute to urban system.

This research will not be possible without the government, private sector, NGOs and community support. The government would need to provide space for bamboo in their building and other construction codes, as well as to start more public works with bamboo application. The private sector would need to find new perspective that bamboo can generate profit and make a positive image for the company. Thus they could start popularizing bamboo use together with the NGOs and communities. I still remember when my previous supervisor, the owner of a highway construction firm rejected a proposal of using bamboo mattress for foundation and soil improvement, although it has been used in several other public projects. Simply put: (1) the non-natural strength capability of this natural material has not been well-verified (2) untrusted cost-saving breakdown and (3) non-standardized construction techniques, thus making it difficult to use for billion dollar projects. The huge potential of bamboo as a rapidly renewable, natural resource has become more and more promising for bamboo as undeniable, stellar construction material alternative. On top of that, when we start rebranding bamboo into a first-class-but-economical quality, rather than just a natural-green-sustainable appearance, who could deny bamboo material for the natural part of their project?

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