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Industry & Trends

The Latest Hot Wood? How About Bamboo

Sometimes looked down upon by those in the trade, at least one expert sees bamboo potentially as important in building as concrete and steel.

Bamboo may not get quite the respect in the building and construction industry as more widely used woods but its time may be coming.

“Bamboo has a real part to play as a low-carbon material, and it needs to be part of the toolkit that we have moving forward,” Chris Matthews, an engineer with the British engineering firm Atelier One, told design website Dezeen in a new interview. “It’s going to be a major player.”

An associate director specializing in structural bamboo, Matthews said the strength and availability of bamboo give it the potential to be as important to the building trade as concrete or steel. “This idea that we have a sheet of rigid, extremely polished buildings, built from all kinds of steel and concrete, it has to change,” Matthews told Dezeen.

Bamboo is, of course, an extremely fast-growing species of giant grass that grows abundantly, quickly and cheaply around the world, Dezeen reported, noting that while wood takes about 30 years to grow before being harvested as structural timber, bamboo takes just three years.

“The speed of growth is amazing,” Matthews told the website. “And the other wonderful thing is that you can grow bamboo on degraded land. Land that wouldn’t otherwise be being used; you can actually regenerate using bamboo.”

He said bamboo is also quite strong, comparable to aluminum, though not quite as strong as steel. “It is also actually stronger than concrete,” he continued.

Another important consideration has to do with sustainability and environmental issues. Matthews pointed to research that suggests bamboo stores even more carbon than timber. “There’s no kind of definitive paper on this yet because it’s such a hard thing to measure, but some papers say it’s between two and six times as much [sequestered carbon],” he said. “It’s a great way of taking carbon out of the environment and making sure it doesn’t get re-released.”

Using materials like bamboo represents a major change of attitudes for the construction sector he told Dezeen. “Instead of thinking of a building as something that we have to use up our carbon budget to make, we’re instead thinking of the building as a way of locking up some carbon over the lifetime of the building.

“I hope more and more of that will happen.”

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