The consequences of global warming have arrived, with heatwaves and droughts topping new temperatures, and increasing areas subjected to flooding risk. While many buildings seek to be zero-emission and energy efficient, building related CO2 emissions have continued to rise by around 1% a year since 2010. With this in mind, we are talking today about bamboo architecture.
Bamboo plants are rigid by nature and one of the fastest growing plants in the world. The plant actually removes CO2 from the air more efficiently than trees and produces oxygen. By providing a low-carbon alternative to timber, steel and cement, we could effectively slow down global warming. In our current climate choosing sustainability is critical.
Bamboo Has An Image Problem
Bamboo is one of mankind’s oldest building materials, being suitable in its ability to flex and form to our needs. For this year’s World Architecture News Awards we saw the Swirling Cloud from SUP Atelier, a pavilion made from bamboo that swirls and curves, showcasing the flexibility and beauty of the material. So far so good for bamboo.
However, bamboo still remains seen as a material for the poor. Since the 1980s Linda Garland championed bamboo, making it a lifelong crusade to prove the material’s power and usability. Architect Simon Velez strives to create prove the efficacy of bamboo as a strong and sustainable material, too. In 2000 the designer erected a bamboo pavilion for the Hanover Expo which underwent a series of scientific tests for the ZERI Foundation (Zero Emissions Research and Initiative). The two-story bamboo structure went on to be the most popular pavilion.
Bamboo is Beautiful
It’s true that bamboo is susceptible to swelling and fungus, but many techniques and treatments can be applied now that can prevent and remedy the situation. What we’re left with is the excitement about the flexibility and form that bamboo can take, opening design to creativity.
Design teams like Ibuku show the strength and splendor, the magnificence that bamboo can do. Designers like Deture Culsign show us other forms and formats, just proving the different characteristics of this material.
Bamboo Can Bend and Flex
Working with bamboo definitely provides challenges when it comes to shape, as there are often curves and bends. But that also brings beautiful shapes.
It surprises many visitors to see bamboo still being used for constructing many of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers. But the flexibility that allows it to be shaped into curves is also perfect for the typhoons that frequent the area.
Advocating for Bamboo
One of the greatest selling points of bamboo is its sustainability. With 1,450 different species of bamboo growing in tropical regions the material is not in short supply. Being so natural, there is a sense of calm to bamboo structures that makes them perfect for relaxing spaces such as retreats which is why many Airbnb and hotels are seeing the value in building in this material; it connects human to nature.
Bamboo U was founded by John Hardy bringing architects and carpenters together to provide educational courses on bamboo. With greater education and learning about bamboo, education on the topic is the best way forward to advocate for its growth as a construction material. In the meantime, we should relish the retreats, pavilions and the treehouses that showcase bamboo’s beauty and abilities.
So is bamboo architecture the answer to sustainability? We know that growing bamboo and using it as a material are all great possibilities that answer problems of sustainability, so what’s stopping us? It seems that for now, bamboo is still struggling to move into mainstream architecture. What’s required therefore is a greater belief and understanding in the material, more practice and use of it. Let’s hope we see more bamboo architecture explored in the coming years in a move toward a more sustainable future.