Every architect has their own dialect to express themselves which they discover when they enter the world of architecture.Everything they create; underlies a thought process they want to elicit and a feeling they want to evoke from the legacy they leave behind once they are gone. When one sees a great work of architecture like the harmony of all the elements of bamboo stacked together to create a magnum opus; a symphony orchestrated that may resonate divine perfection. It becomes worthwhile to wonder how such unique construction, style, dialect and the building method itself evolved.
Bamboo is a forgotten rustic beauty from the past. Since times immemorial, Bamboo was conceived as a premium building material. However, inmost cultures, from China to India, the poorest were the ones who used it as a building material in vernacular architecture only for their abodes and rafts.
Bamboo is an organic jack of all trades. Rising almost 30 meters into the air, bamboo is a tall and slender form of grass which takes 1/8th time to grow than its lumbar competitors. This makes bamboo the most efficient renewable organic resource, especially in today’s world where wood is becoming scarcer. Bamboo is as beautiful as it is practical and efficient. It is sustainable, natural, lightweight, flexible, and inexpensive.
This durable beauty has a low carbon footprint but higher compressive strength than that of concrete and a tensile strength almost equal to that of steel.Once treated pre constructionto resist insects and rot, the woody plant becomes a remarkably sustainable alternative to other materials, exhibiting a structural integrity strong enough to warrant its use in disaster-resistant housing. This elegant material which with its solid exterior and hollow material makes it highly versatile and an ideal construction material.
The structural performance of these structures are a minimum of 25 years. There are bamboo structures in South America and Europe that are over 100 years old. These old structures did not just rise of the ground and were stacked together, it is much more. It resonates pride, traditional knowledge passed from generation to generation, precision and great technique; a symphony.
This versatile material renders originality and provides more creative freedom to the architect. Also the fact of being one of the strongest materials on the planet has finally led bamboo been used in structures ranging from pavilions to tree houses. This has led many to revisit bamboo architecture and introduce and share this thing of organic beauty with others.
Taking an example of green school in green village of Bali, it is an attempt to change the people’s perspective on the infinite potential of bamboo and making people feel more connected to nature and their surroundings. Their Bamboo houses are designed and built around the natural contours of each plot with rare views of the river front and the volcanoes of Bali.
However, these examples are limited. It’s most frequently seen as scaffolding or as a decorative element, and more recently flattened and laminated into flooring planks. It has an untapped potential. The 2016 (first-ever) International Bamboo Architecture Biennale showed, bamboo in its full glory highlighting its versatility, including exterior sheathing, structural spines, interior screens, ventilation systems, canopies, stairs, ceilings, floors, and walls. Also thanks to competitions, courses, and groups like the World Bamboo Organization and UN Habitat, bamboo’s popularity has grown in certain parts of the world, such as Asia and South America.
These efforts have allowed many to become more susceptible and open minded towards the organic beauty over time. With time comes change in technologies. Traditionally, thinly split bamboo peels, reeds, jute and such others were used to tie the members, but nowadays long nuts and bolts are becoming common. These bolts need to be cut and threaded to the required length, with rust proof coatings.
The shift is slowly taking place, acceptance is on the rise, adaptiveness has been introduced. However, with the advent of concrete, metal and glass as the main players in the construction industry, results in our built environment slowly turning into an inorganic concrete jungle.The world isn’t yet ready for whole cities to be made out of bamboo. It’s almost as if everyone is drugged on modernism. Who says the only choice is glass and metal as pedal to the future?
Bamboo has been relatively underused in architecture;unfortunately still seen as only fitting for rudimentary architectural projects or as part of decorative interiors. There are still narrow mindsets prevailing where most are still thinking small and not looking at the bigger picture. It needs to be looked as main structural material rather than a tool that only accentuates the design.
This thinking that bamboo cannot be utilized other than as a rudimentary material within this realm of modern architecture has saturated the canvas of most architects and polluted their minds with this preconceived notion.This needs to be shed, we’re evolving, so is architecture, why not go back to our roots, or makes these two realms of modernism and vernacular architecture coexist together harmoniously.
India is home to more than 135 different species of Bamboo. Despite this, however, the material’s use in urban India’s building industry has been negligible. Lack of research and willingness to innovate and to move away from conventional materials is a prime reason. However, considering the fragile environmental situation today, it is time architects and builders explored this wonderful, aesthetic, eco-friendly and versatile material for its use in building construction.
Bamboo is a thing of beauty. A beauty that’s not only needs to be admired but appreciated. It does not require any colour changing façades, ornamentation or any gimmicks; its simplicity, its brutalist pure satire is enough to draw anyone in. It doesn’t need anything to stand out, just some simple knowledge, a conscious designer and open minded users. Also, with its longevity of structural integrity, men may come and men may go but bamboo shall go on forever.