Bamboo is one of the oldest and most versatile building materials in the world. It has been used for centuries in various cultures and climates, from Asia to Africa, from tropical to temperate regions. Bamboo is not only a renewable and sustainable resource, but also a material with remarkable aesthetic and structural properties. In this article, we will explore how bamboo can be used to create unique spaces with different architectural functions and forms.
Bamboo as a structural system
Bamboo is known for its strength and flexibility. According to Neil Thomas, director of the London-based structural engineering firm Atelier One, "Its compressive strength is equal to that of concrete, while its tensile strength reaches steel's numbers." Thus, the material becomes extremely versatile and can be used as a structural element in roofs, beams, columns, trusses, and other architectural elements. With various possible fitting systems or from the curves created, the material brings endless variables to create a unique design from the structure.
One example of a project that showcases the structural potential of bamboo is The Arc by Ibuku, a gymnasium for Bali's Green School. The roof of the building is made entirely from bamboo, composed of 14-metre-high cane arches connected by double-curved gridshells. The structure is self-supporting and encloses a large area using minimal material while leaving the floor underneath uninterrupted by supporting columns.
Another example is the Bamboo Sports Hall by Chiangmai Life Architects and Construction, a sports hall for Thailand's Panyaden International School. The building features sweeping, 17-metre trusses that were prefabricated on-site and lifted into position using a crane. The open lattice structure cuts out the need for air conditioning and by eschewing steel fixings in favour of rope, the architects claim they were able to create a building that absorbed more carbon in its materials than was emitted through its construction.
Bamboo as a coating: panels and partitions
Bamboo can also be used to create internal or external panels and dividers in buildings. In its natural form, cut into planks, laminated, or woven, the material allows for different patterns and textures that can provide privacy in open spaces and protect the space from direct sunlight, functioning as a sunshade.
A project that demonstrates this use of bamboo is the Impression Sanjie Liu canopy by LLLab, an installation that shelters visitors of a light show on an island in Yangshuo's Li River. The canopy is made of bamboo strands that are hand-woven to form a 140-metre-long structure. The same latticework is also used to finish spherical pavilions that resemble lanterns and are supported by load-bearing bamboo lengths that were soaked and scorched so they could be bent into shape.
Another project that uses bamboo as a coating is the Bamboo Pavilion by Zuo Studio, a pavilion in Taichung that aims to demonstrate how the low-carbon building material could offer "a more habitable environment to our next generation". The pavilion consists of a series of curved bamboo ribs that form an organic shape resembling a cloud or a wave. The ribs are covered with translucent fabric panels that filter natural light and create a soft atmosphere inside.
Bamboo as a decoration
On a smaller scale, bamboo can also be used to create furniture - benches and lamps - and decorative objects. Its natural form, colour, and texture can add warmth and character to any space. As American architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, "The reality of a building is not the container but the space within."
A project that illustrates this idea is the Bamboo Forest by Vo Trong Nghia Architects, an installation that transforms an urban plaza in Ho Chi Minh City into a serene oasis. The installation consists of 287 bamboo poles that are arranged in a grid pattern and vary in height from 1.5 to 6 metres. The poles create a dynamic landscape that invites people to interact with it and experience different perspectives.
Another project that uses bamboo as a decoration is the Bamboo Stalactite by Vo Trong Nghia Architects, an installation that hangs from the ceiling of the Venice Biennale's Central Pavilion. The installation is composed of 121 thin bamboo poles that are tied together at different angles and lengths. The poles create a delicate structure that resembles a stalactite or an inverted forest.
Bamboo in its natural form
Without major interventions, bamboo can also be maintained in its natural form, planted in the ground, to define spaces. Its height creates more private spaces, and its flexibility allows for different scenographies in the space. As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, "The usefulness of a pot comes from its emptiness."
A project that exemplifies this use of bamboo is the Bamboo Courtyard Teahouse by HWCD, a teahouse in Yangzhou that is surrounded by a bamboo forest. The bamboo forest creates a natural screen that isolates the teahouse from the urban context and creates a tranquil atmosphere. The teahouse itself is composed of four bamboo boxes that are connected by glass corridors. The boxes have large windows that frame views of the bamboo forest and the lake.
Another project that uses bamboo in its natural form is the Bamboo Garden by Atelier FCJZ, a garden in Beijing that is part of a mixed-use development. The garden is designed as a contrast to the surrounding concrete buildings and features a variety of bamboo species that create different colours, textures, and heights. The garden also includes a pavilion that is made of steel and glass and serves as a meeting space.
Bamboo is a material with many advantages and possibilities for architecture. It can be used to create unique spaces with different functions and forms, from structural systems to coatings, from decorations to natural elements. Bamboo can also enhance the aesthetic value and environmental performance of buildings, creating spaces that are beautiful, comfortable, and sustainable. As Japanese architect Kengo Kuma said, "Bamboo is not a material but a principle."