Why Bamboo Is the New Steel of Architecture

Manufacturing cement is the third highest man-made producer of CO2 in the world, after the transport and energy sectors. Producing cement accounts for 4 to 5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which means every ton of cement used in building construction produces 1,719.6 lbs. (780 kgs.) of CO2. Producing steel is only marginally less impactful on the environment. We need to find more sustainable, eco-friendly, affordable building materials to replace these architectural catalysts of climate change.

Advances in Green Architecture

We must learn to build sustainably if we are to curb the impact of global warming and mitigate the effects of climate change. One of the rising stars in the green-building industry is bamboo. Traditionally, bamboo has been used only as scaffolding, to build bridges and rudimentary structures. Its true potential and powerful benefits as a building material are only now being uncovered. Bamboo is light, flexible and renewable, which makes it the building material of the future.

Bamboo Facts

Bamboo is a giant species of grass. There are over 1,000 kinds of bamboo with stems that range in size from 0.04 inches (1 mm) to 11.8 inches (30 cm). Some of the bigger species can grow trunks (called culms) that are up to 131 feet (40 meters) high. One of the greatest strengths of bamboo is that it can grow up to 4 feet a day, making it a renewable and sustainable resource.

Apart from being easy to cultivate, bamboo is strong and bendable. Bamboo can be cut into planks and laminated to create a building material that is as strong as steel when it comes to tension. Thanks to its cylindrical nature, it is as strong as concrete when compressed. Because it is naturally water resistant, it won’t warp or swell like wood when it gets wet.

Bamboo Uses

Bamboo veneers, flooring and corrugated roofing sheets are already frequently used in the building industry. Due to its widespread availability in warmer climates, bamboo can help provide much-needed housing in the developing world. Using bamboo building products can help designers and green architects qualify for green building certifications such as LEED.

One of the barriers to the widespread use of bamboo is that it is difficult to join. It splits easily, and so nails and traditional fasteners are not a good solution, while lashing it together is only a temporary measure. If bamboo is to become the sustainable building material of choice, development of new building techniques and advances in fastener technology will have to be made, while building codes will need to be updated to include this renewable resource.

As bamboo is introduced to construction, it leads to energy savings, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and the conservation of the world’s scarce resources. Able to sequester large amounts of carbon, bamboo is the “green gold” panacea that the building industry has been looking for. It is an increasingly popular choice as a building material and, as technology presents new options for bamboo as a building element, it promises to grow in potential.









Nikki Fotheringham is an environmental journalist and campfire cooking author. She is the editor of Greenmoxie.com where she shares green-living tips and helps people to live a more sustainable life.