Building back better (and stronger) with bamboo
Bamboo, the perennial and plentiful plant, is the next big thing in sustainable construction.
For centuries, bamboo had been used for traditional ceremonies and as the primary material for building homes in local communities, especially in Eastern Nepal.
So, why has bamboo not been taken more seriously as a mainstream construction material? Public perception and awareness have a part to play.
It starts with the perception that bamboo is the ‘poor man’s timber’. This means not many people are aware that bamboo is one of the most robust materials for construction if the right species is used together with the appropriate techniques.
According to a 2019 report by the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre, treated bamboo wall panels can last up to 20 years. Bamboo treatment ranges from traditional practices such as river washing and smoking to using chemical preservatives made with boron salts or Solignum.
Apart from high tensile and compressive strength, bamboo is known for its shrinkage, resistibility, elasticity, and its low weight, making it suitable building material for seismically active zones like Nepal.
When the earthquake struck Nepal in 2015, nearly ten thousand Nepalis lost their lives and many more were injured, trapped under collapsed homes. Some 600,000 buildings were partially or completely damaged by the tremors.
Well other factors played a part, construction and structural deficiencies caused much damage to unreinforced masonry, stone and asobe buildings in central and eastern Nepal.
In addition to being a superior construction material, bamboo is also ecologically sound. The fast-growing bamboo generates 35% more oxygen than trees. As bamboo products used to build a house can be recycled, hazardous construction waste can also be reduced.
Photos: HABITAT FOR HUMANITY NEPAL
The Global Status Report by the United Nations in 2019 stated that buildings and construction account for nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. The shift to environmentally-friendly building technology to reduce carbon footprints is another bonus of bamboo.
For some time, groups such as India's National Bamboo Mission and the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan based in China’s Beijing have promoted the sustainable use of bamboo.
World Bamboo Day falls on Saturday, 18 September and has been used to highlight the ecological and economic benefits of this versatile plant.
Here in Nepal, we are not ignorant of bamboo’s enormous potential. At construction firms like Adobe and Bamboo Research Institute (ABARI) and non-profit Habitat for Humanity Nepal, bamboo is promoted as a sustainable building material. Besides construction, the versatile bamboo has diversified uses, ranging from bridges and scaffolding to its application in furniture, handicrafts and even bicycles.
But, promoting bamboo as a sustainable resource a collective effort, not an individual mission. Therefore, the proponents of bamboo need to have a unified voice, actively coordinating and engaging with myriad actors to achieve scalable partnerships.
Although there is no lack of research papers on harvesting, types, and uses of bamboo, studies typically don't tell delve into factors such as market demand, supply chains, and opportunities for scaled impact.
When it comes to the use of bamboo in home construction, we also need to address people’s perception that it is an inferior material. We can tap into strong advocates that have demonstrated innovative ways of building with bamboo. Madan Puraskar Library in Patan Dhoka is one that was rebuilt after the earthquake with bamboo and rammed-earth.
Would we rather build a bamboo home that lasts longer or a concrete block that might not survive the next big earthquake? The choice should be obvious.
Tripti Mahaseth is an architect and urban planner who leads the bamboo housing project at Habitat for Humanity Nepal providing safe, durable, and affordable treated bamboo solutions in the Eastern Tarai.
Wild about bamboo
Nepali bamboo is good enough to eat
It is said Nepali culture demands bamboo from birth to death and everything in between. We use bamboo as scaffolding material, as food, for music, to carry things and to write with.
Nepal has over 80 species of bamboo. In fact, for just 0.1% of the planet’s land area, Nepal has 5% of the world’s bamboo, further signifying the Himalayan nation’s rich biodiversity.
Most Nepali bamboo types are found in the wetter middle and eastern regions of the country from 50m-4,000m, with Ilam, Dhankuta, Bhojpur and Taplejung having the sturdiest stems.
Global bamboo market is worth $72.10 billion and Nepal can be a key player in the international bamboo and cane trade. Bamboo also has a huge potential for rural enterprise and poverty alleviation.
Bamboo promotes sustainable, integrated farming systems and is also an excellent resource for income and employment generation. One hectare of bamboo can earn a farmer at least Rs400,000 per year.
The beauty of bamboo is that it is fast-growing, needs little maintenance, can grow on forest margins and requires only modest investment.
Some communities in Nepal, like the Dom Dalits in the Tarai, are completely dependant on the bamboo, making their living from weaving mats from nigalo. Many Rai and Limbu communities in the east also rely on bamboo, and are expert weavers of doko and dalo for the local market.
Bamboo has been recognised as an 'international commodity' and the plant has been used widely to build homes, resorts and galleries. The 12th World Bamboo Congress to be held in Taiwan this September has been postponed once again due to the on-going global Covid-19 pandemic. But events like the World Bamboo Day on 18 September every year highlights the economic and ecological significance of the plant.
In terms of quality, Nepali bamboo is as good as, if not better than most. And we are still finding new uses for this versatile plant. For instance, bamboo is the best 'carbon sink' for greenhouse gases putting out 35% more oxygen than other trees and every hectare of bamboo soaks up 12 tons of carbon dioxide every year.
For the Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese, Thai, and Nepalis, bamboo shoots are a staple diet. Nepal produces at least 102 tons of tama and each household consumes about 46 stems a year. It is a good source of fibre, carbohydrate, vegetable fat, protein and vitamin B.
Strong but flexible and incredibly versatile, bamboo is an excellent alternative to wood. With a tensile strength of 28,000 per square inch, it's even a stronger building material than steel. Bamboo homes only need an eighth of the energy concrete requires to create building material with the same capacity. To top it off, it is also the quickest growing plant in the world and can be harvested in three years for building. This capacity to regenerate and its yields, which can be up to 25 times more than timber when well managed, makes bamboo an environmentally sound choice. Bamboo homes, light and elastic, are also earthquake resistant.
In a country as vertical as Nepal, bamboo is also great for soil conservation. Growing in mixed cultures, it is naturally less likely to cause soil erosion than monocultural farming. Bamboo creates a mat-like structure underground, effectively stitching the soil together, it is perfect for fragile river banks, deforested areas, earthquake zones and preventing mud slides.
Bamboo has been used for making paper since the second century. At one point, this renewable resource was used to make 70% of India's paper.
Ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese healing traditions have used the medicinal properties of bamboo. In acupuncture, bamboo secretion is powdered and hardened and used internally to treat asthma, coughs and as an aphrodisiac. Black bamboo root is used to treat kidney disease. In Ayurveda, bamboo manna is a rejuvenating herb for sore throats.
Based on an original article in Nepali Times by Sraddha Basnyat.
Sustainable and spectacular
Bamboo is no longer a poor man's construction material, architects have used the versatile plant to design some prime properties around the world ranging from quaint and beautiful resorts, hotels and restaurants to green schools, art galleries, and residential apartment buildings.
Some prime examples are: Bangkok Tree House resort, Naman Retreat and Kontum Indochine Café in Vietnam, architect Edouard François’ 10-storey residential Flower Tower in Paris and IBUKU designed forest getaway Sharma Springs in Bali.
Bamboo is making waves and is very much in demand, in particular for its environmentally-friendly features.
IBUKU is a team of designers, architects and engineers based in Bali, pioneering in building Bamboo-based structures. It was founded by Canadian designer Elora Hardy, who is known for designing a community of bamboo homes near Denpasar in Bali.
In April, John Hardy partnered with Elora Hardy and Arief Rabik to further the efforts of bamboo reforestation through their continued Wear Bamboo, Plant Bamboo program.
Elora’s father John Hardy has planted over 1.3 million bamboo in Indonesia since 2007 in partnership with the Environmental Bamboo Foundation. For every handcrafted bamboo piece sold, bamboo seedlings are planted in Indonesia under the foundation’s Bamboo Village Initiative.
The Arc at Green School, Bali
It is only fitting that the Arc in Bali has a bamboo building that employs the latest construction technologies. It is the newest structure on campus and is a community wellness space and gymnasium for the school. The Arc, a collaboration between Jorg Stamm and Atelier One, is built from a series of intersecting 14m bamboo arches spanning 19m, interconnected by anticlastic gridshells that derive their strengths from curving in two opposite directions.
The highlight of the new building is that it creates large spaces with minimal structure, for which it draws its inspiration from a human ribcage. At the Arc, arches working in compression are held in place by tensioned anticlastic gridshells. These appear to drape across the spaces between impossibly thin arches soaring overhead, giving an intimacy and beauty to the space. Although the gridshells appear to hang from the arches, they actually hold them up.
This project has been longlisted in the Sustainable Building Category of Dezeen Awards 2021.
Bocas Treehouse, Bocas Del Toro, Panama
On the remote Frangipani Island in Bocas Del Toro, Panama lies a self-sustaining eco-resort, 100% off the grid, soon growing to incorporate IBUKU-designed tree houses for a customised experience of luxury nature for locals and tourists alike, with the spectacular views of the ocean through the canopy on the mangrove island.
The will feature a fusion of local bamboo and greenheart timber, with an interior from Bamboo Pure Workshop in Bali. IBUKU is in the schematic design phase of this project collaborating with Mar Azul, Summer House and Jose Agustín Almario.