Bamboo has been used in China, India and throughout the tropics around the globe for centuries. As a construction material once you understand it’s superior qualities and it’s suitability for certain jobs, why use anything else? Maybe it’s because we don’t have bamboo growing naturally in Europe and North America and bamboo is being used in a major populated areas but often for the wrong purpose (scaffolding) and not as a design feature.
Crazy cool fact about flowering bamboo is that all plants of one species develop flowers at the same time, no matter where they are located in the world.
Bamboo is not well suited for mass producing apartment buildings, or cookie cutter box style houses en mass, since everything to do with Bamboo is custom, one stick at a time but that’s what makes it so great and unique for building with but it’s the superior quality construction material that makes it one of the most Super-Awesome plants on earth.
Bamboos seldom and unpredictably flower, and the frequency of flowering varies greatly from species to species. Once flowering takes place, a plant declines and often dies entirely. In fact, many species only flower at intervals as long as 65 or 120 years.
Any plant derived through clonal propagation from this cohort will also flower regardless of whether it has been planted in a different location. The longest mass flowering interval known is 130 years, and it is for the species Phyllostachys bambusoides (Sieb. & Zucc.). In this species, all plants of the same stock flower at the same time, regardless of differences in geographic locations or climatic conditions, and then the bamboo dies.
The lack of environmental impact on the time of flowering indicates the presence of some sort of “alarm clock” in each cell of the plant which signals the diversion of all energy to flower production and the cessation of vegetative growth. This mechanism, as well as the evolutionary cause behind it, is still largely a mystery.
Interesting facts about bamboo:
- There are 1,500 species of bamboo that can be found in Asia, Australia, North and South America and Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet. Bamboo grows at 2 inches an hour. Some species grow one and a half meters a day.
- Bamboo strands release 35% more oxygen than equivalent stands of trees.
- Some bamboo even sequester up to 12 tons of carbon dioxide from the air per hectare.
- Bamboo can also lower light intensity and protects against ultraviolet rays.
- Bamboo is a pioneering plant and can be grown in soil damaged by overgrazing and poor agricultural techniques.
- Bamboo’s tensile strength is 28,000 pounds per square inch versus 23,000 pounds per square inch for steel.
- One clump can produce 200 poles in the three to five years.
- Bamboo can be harvested in 3-5 years versus 10-20 years for most softwoods.
- The largest species of bamboo can reach 130 feet in height.
- Some species of bamboo develop flowers after 65 or 120 years.
A wonderful resource for understanding bamboo and bamboo treatment is Bamboo Central, founded by Linda Garland and her son, Arief Rabik.
Bamboo U and Ibuku Design from Indonesia
Bamboo U is for you if your mind is ready for the coolest school for learning bamboo construction techniques on earth. And see firsthand the work of the company Ibuku which is the bespoke luxury home designers that grew as an entrepreneurial off-shoot of Bamboo U.
Most bamboo species are native to warm and moist tropical and warm temperate climates, However, many species are found in diverse climates, ranging from hot tropical regions to cool mountainous regions and highland cloud forests.
In the Asia-Pacific region they occur across East Asia, from north to 50 °N latitude in Sakhalin, to south to northern Australia, and west to India and the Himalayas. China, Japan, Korea, India and Australia, all have several endemic populations. They also occur in small numbers in sub-Saharan Africa, confined to tropical areas, from southern Senegal in the north to southern Mozambique and Madagascar in the south.
In the Americas, bamboo has a native range from 47 °S in southern Argentina and the beech forests of central Chile, through the South American tropical rainforests, to the Andes in Ecuador near 4,300 m (14,000 ft). Bamboo is also native through Central America and Mexico, northward into the Southeastern United States, Canada and continental Europe are not known to have any native species of bamboo. As garden plants, many species grow readily outside these ranges, including most of Europe and the United States.
Recently, some attempts have been made to grow bamboo on a commercial basis in the Great Lakes region of east-central Africa, especially in Rwanda. In the United States, several companies are growing, harvesting, and distributing species such as Phyllostachys nigra (Henon) and Phyllostachys edulis (Moso).
In its natural form, bamboo as a construction material is traditionally associated with the cultures of South Asia, East Asia, and the South Pacific, to some extent in Central and South America, and by extension in the aesthetic of Tiki culture. In China and India, bamboo was used to hold up simple suspension bridges, either by making cables of split bamboo or twisting whole culms of sufficiently pliable bamboo together. One such bridge in the area of Qian-Xian is referenced in writings dating back to 960 AD and may have stood since as far back as the third century BC, due largely to continuous maintenance.
Bamboo has also long been used as scaffolding; the practice has been banned in China for buildings over six stories, but is still in continuous use for skyscrapers in Hong Kong. In the Philippines, the nipa hut is a fairly typical example of the most basic sort of housing where bamboo is used; the walls are split and woven bamboo, and bamboo slats and poles may be used as its support. In Japanese architecture, bamboo is used primarily as a supplemental and/or decorative element in buildings such as fencing, fountains, grates, and gutters, largely due to the ready abundance of quality timber.
Various structural shapes may be made by training the bamboo to assume them as it grows. Squared sections of bamboo are created by compressing the growing stalk within a square form. Arches may similarly be created by forcing the bamboo’s growth into the desired form, costing much less than it would to obtain the same shape with regular wood timber. More conventional forming methods, such as the application of heat and pressure, may also be used to curve or flatten the cut stalks.
Bamboo can be cut and laminated into sheets and planks. This process involves cutting stalks into thin strips, planing them flat, and boiling and drying the strips; they are then glued, pressed, and finished. Long used in China and Japan, entrepreneurs started developing and selling laminated bamboo flooring in the West during the mid-1990s; products made from bamboo laminate, including flooring, cabinetry, furniture, and even decorations, are currently surging in popularity, transitioning from the boutique market to mainstream providers such as Home Depot. The bamboo goods industry (which also includes small goods, fabric, etc.) is expected to be worth $25 billion by 2012. The quality of bamboo laminate varies among manufacturers and varies according to the maturity of the plant from which it was harvested (six years being considered the optimum); the sturdiest products fulfill their claims of being up to three times as hard as oak hardwood while others may be softer than standard hardwood.
Bamboo intended for use in construction should be treated to resist insects and rot. The most common solution for this purpose is a mixture of borax and boric acid. Another process involves boiling cut bamboo to remove the starches that attract insects.
Bamboo has been used as reinforcement for concrete in those areas where it is plentiful, though dispute exists over its effectiveness in the various studies done on the subject. Bamboo does have the necessary strength to fulfil this function, but untreated bamboo will swell with water absorbed from the concrete, causing it to crack. Several procedures must be followed to overcome this shortcoming.
Several institutes, businesses, and universities are researching the use of bamboo as an ecological construction material. In the United States and France, it is possible to get houses made entirely of bamboo, which are earthquake- and cyclone-resistant and internationally certified. Three ISO standards are given for bamboo as a construction material.
In parts of India, bamboo is used for drying clothes indoors, both as a rod high up near the ceiling to hang clothes on, and as a stick wielded with acquired expert skill to hoist, spread, and to take down the clothes when dry. It is also commonly used to make ladders, which apart from their normal function, are also used for carrying bodies in funerals. In Maharashtra, the bamboo groves and forests are called Veluvana, the name velu for bamboo is most likely from Sanskrit, while vana means forest.
Furthermore, bamboo is also used to create flagpoles for saffron-coloured, Hindu religious flags, which can be seen fluttering across India, especially in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, as well as in Guyana and Suriname in South America.
Bamboo was used for the structural members of the India pavilion at Expo 2010 in Shanghai. The pavilion is the world’s largest bamboo dome, about 34 m (112 ft) in diameter, with bamboo beams/members overlaid with a ferro-concrete slab, waterproofing, copper plate, solar PV panels, a small windmill, and live plants. A total of 30 km (19 mi) of bamboo was used. The dome is supported on 18-m-long steel piles and a series of steel ring beams. The bamboo was treated with borax and boric acid as a fire retardant and insecticide and bent in the required shape. The bamboo sections were joined with reinforcement bars and concrete mortar to achieve the necessary lengths.