Thursday, 12 May 2016

Bamboo bikes and buildings

At the Grand Designs Live show in London last weekend, I saw a bamboo bicycle for the first time, at a stand run by the Bamboo Bicycle Club. I’d heard about them, and it seemed like a nice idea, but this was the first time I’d seen one in the flesh. It was light, and felt strong. I’m not looking for a new bike right now, but if I were, I’d be strongly tempted to sign up for one of their workshops, and make one for myself.



Seeing the bikes got me thinking of buildings I had seen online which were made from bamboo. There seems to have been a lot of interest recently in using bamboo as a building material. It's strong and light, and considered to be one of the more environmentally friendly materials, because compared to conventional timber, it grows very rapidly and can be harvested after a much shorter time. 

I did wonder about its durability, because growing up in a place where clothes were dried on bamboo poles, I had seen how quickly they deteriorated. I have learnt that untreated bamboo lasts for less than 2 years outdoors, and only about 5 to 7 years if stored under cover. Bamboo also has a high starch content which makes if vulnerable to fungi, mould, and insects. However, it can be treated chemically, which extends its lifespan to about 25 years.

I'm not in a position to assess the technical and environmental aspects of bamboo for myself, but the evidence so far seems to suggest that it is a promising material with lots of potential for our time.


Green School in Bali, by Ibuku



Bamboo Hostels in Baoxi, China, by Anna Heringer



Low cost housing in Vietnam by (steel frame, lightweight walls of layered corrugated polycarbonate and bamboo), by Vo Truong Nghia architects 


Multi-storey car park, The Hague, Netherlands (babmboo exterior cladding)

German-Chinese House, Shanghai World Expo, by Markus Heinsdorff and MUDI (load-bearing bamboo)

Some people are now suggesting that skyscrapers can be built using bamboo as the structural material. Here are some of the winning entries in the Singapore Bamboo Skyscraper Competition


Here is a proposal by CRG architects
Are these megastructures really feasible? Somehow I doubt it, at least not at present, although I don't have the technical knowledge to make that judgement.
Anyway, the smaller scale projects that have actually been built look attractive, and there's a lot to be said for a material that's cheap, light, and environmentally friendly. I don't think I'll end up living in a bamboo house, except on holiday, but if I get a new bicycle, it might be made of bamboo.

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