Building with bamboo

Issue 28 Words: Fiona Whitelaw

Used as a building staple in Southeast Asia since ancient times, bamboo is now seen as the ecological choice for everything from floorboards to cleaning products, but just how green is this grass? Fiona Whitelaw finds out.

Lightweight and with the tensile weight-for-weight strength of mild steel, bamboo has been used as a building material across Asia and beyond for thousands of years. A grass rather than a timber, in the right conditions bamboo can grow up to 30cm a day, and can be harvested without destroying the original plant. These qualities make bamboo one of the world’s most sustainable building materials.

Because of its fast growing time, ability to absorb carbon and its versatility, bamboo is frequently used in ‘green’ building products in Australia. It is usually used in one of three ways: as a laminate, for its fibre, or less commonly, as a dried, usually woven material. Laminated products are used widely for flooring.

Although bamboo is used in a wide range of products in Australia it is not currently rated as a structural building material, but this could change. Architectural designer at Cave Urban, Nici Long, designs and builds bamboo structures, including temporary pavilions and shelters for special events such as the annual Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland. She values bamboo for its sustainability and ease of use. “Bamboo is incredibly easy to work with so a whole community can get involved with a project,” She says. “It’s lightweight, with low embodied energy and it’s biodegradable.”

Beyond bamboo building
For founders of Giant Grass, Mittul and Munir Vahanvati, bamboo is much more than a building material. It’s also a tool for education, collaboration and social entrepreneurship: “For us it’s not just about the outcome, it’s as much about the process,” says Mittul. Bamboo was a chief component for their ‘bamboo loveshack’ (as seen at left), built as a permanent shelter in partnership with University of New South Wales architectural students as part of a practical sustainable resource unit.

Giant Grass also run a range of hands-on workshops for all ages:

Image courtesy of Jaye Irving, Barefoot Design: The prototype ‘Boo Cottage’ in Bangalow NSW by Barefoot Design.

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Cover of Issue 28
You can read more about Building with bamboo in Issue 28 of Sanctuary magazine.

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