Bamboo "becoming increasingly popular"
in Chinese architecture

| 1 comment
 

Bamboo architects: architects in China are turning to bamboo as a cheap and sustainable building material, according to Dylan Baker-Rice, principal at Hong Kong studio Affect-T (+ interview).

"Bamboo is becoming increasingly popular as a building material in architecture, interior, and industrial design," said Baker-Rice in an interview conducted as part of our series about bamboo architecture.



"We are using bamboo more and more in much of own work as we notice many other designers are in Asia and South and Central America. We expect to see a lot more of it in upcoming buildings, in particular here in China."

Earlier this year Affect-T unveiled proposals for cheap, lightweight bamboo micro-homes, which could be constructed inside disused factories to help solve Hong Kong's housing problem.

Bamboo micro homes by Affect-T
Detail of bamboo micro home by Affect-T, as main image

The prototype three-metre-wide structure was made of canes held together with a custom-designed system of bolts and fasteners.

Bamboo is an ideal material for such projects, Baker-Rice said, due to its low cost and availability.

"Because of its abundance in Asia it is very cheap, plentiful, easy to harvest, and easy to transport requiring very little infrastructure to successfully grow and cultivate," he said, adding that it is highly sustainable, since it can simply be composted after use.

Bamboo can perform most of the things that timber is used for in building but in a novel manner, being tubular and moderately flexible," said Baker-Rice, adding that it had several advantages over other building materials.

"Its strength to weight ratio exceeds that of brick and timber while its tensile strength exceeds that of common steel," he said. "Bamboo is relatively slow burning when compared to timber. This is why it is preferred to metal scaffolding for nearly every building in China for minor works to full construction."

Bamboo micro homes by Affect-T
Detail of bamboo micro home by Affect-T

He added: "Once the scaffolding is finished it can be deconstructed or simply cut into pieces and used as compost for growing more bamboo."

There is a long tradition of building with bamboo in the far east and architects and designers are once again turning to the humble material because of its "sense of history and purpose," Baker-Rice said.

"Modern designers often choose it as a reaction against so many contemporary materials which lack a connection to place or environment," he said. "Bamboo is different as it is essentially dried and used as is, requiring the least amount of processing and therefore appearing in architecture much as it would appear if you come across a thicket on a trail of forest."

Photography is by Luke Hayes.

Here's a transcript of the interview:


Marcus Fairs:  Have you noticed an increase in the use of bamboo in architecture?

Dylan Baker-Rice: Yes. Bamboo is becoming increasingly popular as a building material in architecture, interior, and industrial design. We are using bamboo more and more in much of own work as we notice many other designers are in Asia and South and Central America. We expect to see a lot more of it in upcoming buildings, in particular here in China.

Marcus Fairs: What's the reason for this?

Dylan Baker-Rice: I think there are two main reasons, both linked to the environment. The first is that bamboo is linked to place and appears inside or within a building essentially the same as it appears outside in nature. The second is that it is very fast-growing and sustainable to harvest while being extremely strong and light. Or more simply, the first reason is linked to aesthetics in what it represents and the second to its material properties.

Marcus Fairs: How was bamboo traditionally used in Chinese architecture?

Dylan Baker-Rice: It was used in building early stilt or fishing houses in Hong Kong. It was often used in conjunction with wood as a bracing or structural element. In the more tropical areas of Asia such as Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, and Indonesia whole villages and towns were built out of bamboo, with bamboo being used for window and door screens, structure, and decoration. In China, Japan, and Korea bamboo has been in continual use as a building material for more than 1,000 years.

Bamboo micro homes by Affect-T
Detail of bamboo micro home by Affect-T

It is of note as a symbolic element in decorative aspects of the house such as visual screens and woven floor and ceiling matting. Signifying strength and integrity, bamboo refers to the integrity of character or scholarly intent and will. It is meant to serve as a model of character and often appears in homes as young green stems in prominent locations. Bamboo is also harvested for food, being a traditional ingredient in cooking. Bamboo shoots are found in many restaurants. While its contemporary use is often more utilitarian, as its used for scaffolding instead of steel in nearly all of China and much of Southeast Asia.

Marcus Fairs: What about today?

Dylan Baker-Rice: It remains an important building material for its symbolic link to the past and for its property of growing extremely fast. You could say bamboo is rooted in a historic vernacular unique to many parts of Asia, with distinct variations of use and practice in each culture. Modern designers often choose it as a material which has a sense of history and purpose, as a reaction against so many contemporary materials which lack a connection to place or environment. Bamboo is different as it is essentially dried and used as is, requiring the least amount of processing and therefore appearing in architecture much as it would appear if you come across a thicket on a trail of forest. This allows the modern designer to both reference the past and the environment while working with a material in a contemporary way. A design could be minimally decorative lines, curving structure, or transparency and layering of space.

Marcus Fairs: What is bamboo like to work with?

Dylan Baker-Rice: The material properties are the second aspect that makes bamboo such an attractive building material. It grows on average 2-3 times faster than the fastest growing wood and is one of the fastest growing plants. Certain varieties are known to grow two or more meters in a day. This means that relatively small areas can be continually harvested to produce a great deal of material and causing minimal impact to the larger environment.

Because of its abundance in Asia it is very cheap, plentiful, easy to harvest, and easy to transport requiring very little infrastructure to successfully grow and cultivate.

Bamboo micro homes by Affect-T
Detail of bamboo micro home by Affect-T

Marcus Fairs: What are its properties?

Dylan Baker-Rice: Its strength to weight ratio exceeds that of brick and timber while its tensile strength exceeds that of common steel.   Bamboo is relatively slow burning when compared to timber. This is why it is preferred to metal scaffolding for nearly every building in China for minor works to full construction. In Hong Kong, towers from five storeys to 100 storeys are constructed within bamboo scaffolding. Once the scaffolding is finished it can be deconstructed or simply cut into pieces and used as compost for growing more bamboo.

Marcus Fairs: What can bamboo be used for?

Dylan Baker-Rice: Because of the strength, sustainability, and variety of colours and finishes - green bamboo, dried bamboo, or lacquered - the options for design are extremely large. Bamboo can divide a room, act as structural support, become furniture, or be used as a decorative lace-like lattice around a window. It can add mass, layering, transparency, depth or enclosure. Essentially bamboo can perform most of the things that timber is used for in building but in a novel manner, being tubular and moderately flexible.  It has a great deal of potential and we're just scratching the surface, just as architects and designers are re-examining timber using engineered beams, cross laminated panels, and new joining methods.

  • Marko Runjic

    About time. Bamboo should be used wherever possible.