In urban and westernised environments, construction tends to be dominated by the use of metals and what most would consider as ‘conventional’ methods. Internal structural support tends to be built with steel for girders. However, bamboo is set to be the focus of a $200,000 research project co-led by academics at Coventry University, specifically the Centre for Low Impact Buildings and funded by the British and US governments.
Coventry University and the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, will co-lead a team of civil engineering and design gurus in carrying out extensive testing and analysis of the effectiveness of bamboo as a safe construction resource. The research, which is backed by the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the U.S. Department of State through the prestigious Global Innovation Initiative, will bring together world-leading experts in sustainable design to explore the use of a primitive plant that, for most, is seen as a culturally and geographically symbolic material, used mainly in China and South-East-Asia.
The comprehensive strength of bamboo, the capacity of which it can withstand loads tending to reduce size, is greater of that than wood, brick or concrete and the tensile strength, the maximum stress to which it can be stretched before failing/breaking, rivals steel. Bamboo is also the fastest growing plant it the world. It can grow up to 30 metres in length in six months, and can be matured for structural purposes within three years – a process which lends it superior mechanical properties to oak and puts it on an equal footing with steel in terms of tensile strength.
The two-year ‘Bamboo in the Urban Environment’ project was one of only 14 across the world to win funding as part of the Global Innovation Initiative, which aims to boost research collaborations between the UK, the USA and other less well-developed nations. Coventry and Pittsburgh will also work with Bogor Agricultural University (Indonesia), the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (China) and several industry partners in the UK and USA and will allow undergraduate and graduates from each of the institutions will have the chance to participate in the research.
“Bamboo is one of the world’s oldest construction resources, dating back thousands of years, but we haven’t come close to fully exploiting its potential as a sustainable alternative to current industry materials and techniques.
“This project is chiefly about advancing our understanding of bamboo’s capabilities so that we can harness them to help reduce costs and improve safety in housing in lagging and developing countries, or those which are particularly at risk from natural hazards.
“Being relatively cheap, incredibly strong, lightweight and renewable lends it a unique set of properties which make it well-suited to contribute to major global challenges such as population growth, urbanisation and also resilience in the face of climate change.
“If we can go some way towards empowering the next generation of engineers, architects and builders to be able to use bamboo to meet the demands of the 21st century, then the project will have been a success.”
Kelly Webb, a structural engineering and architecture student at Coventry University who is currently in the USA working on the project, said:
“It’s a great experience working on this project and exploring how a material like bamboo can have different applications in the construction industry. The opportunity to take part in the research in the USA is also fantastic, not only in helping with my studies but also in gaining relevant experience for when I graduate. To be at the forefront of work like this which could have a real impact on sustainable construction solutions in the future is a real privilege.”