Bamboo and the beauty of it

Bamboo and the beauty of it

The beauty of bamboo being a sustainable building construction material is its ability to be designed NOT to last forever. A sustainable building does not equal building something that lasts forever. 

Consider how fast bamboo grows into a mature state, being harvest, treated in a simple way and being used to construct or be part of buildings. When parts were worn after many years and being disposed of, they can be decomposed in the ground to plant new bamboo and the cycle repeats. 

Consider other materials such as concrete, steel, wood, and plastic that would consume much energy in the fabrication process, treatment, transportation and material logistics to turn raw material into on-site construction structures.

Imagine if you build a village of houses with material that lasts forever. After 100 years, the people moved out, and there is no way to demolish and discard any of the building materials because they were built to last forever regardless of any changes in the contextual circumstances of the place. 

Imagine again when one day, buildings built on earth have reached an extent that covers the entire possible buildable spaces, the only way to build by dismantling and disposing of material that lasts forever will become impossible. 

Reuse or recycle becomes the only way. The latter consumes much energy and do not guarantee there will not be pollution along the process. The former means imposition of an old framework onto a new culture where buildings can be shaped better with much less effort and energy anew.

Any idea that wants a building material to last forever defeats the purpose of sustainable building construction.

The problem of sustainability becomes shifting a short-term mindset to a mentality that empathizes the effect of things and actions towards humanity and the world for the long term. 

One important aspect of design that characterizes bamboo buildings is the design that caters for replaceability. The building can be conceived in pieces and part that is easy to be replaced when need. For example, a bamboo double-wall, a double-roof system where one layer can be replaced while the other layer serves the sheltering purpose. 
When the inner layer is being replaced, the outer layer serves sheltering purposes.

This works better especially in the hot and humid climate places where passive cooling is a priority in achieving indoor thermal comfort by shading the direct solar heat.

Treating bamboo with harmful chemicals for it to last longer is no better than using a steel structure or other material with similar strength properties. The environmental friendly treatment that repels insects to prolong the duration of bamboo rot is acceptable.

When considering cradle to cradle versus cradle to grave for bamboo, going to grave at the end of the material life-cycle after many years do not necessarily mean bad. Consider how long a rotted bamboo decomposed in the soil to a plastic that is made to last a lifetime.

Now, compare the amount of energy to produce material that does NOT last forever, like bamboo, versus material that lasts a lifetime (plastic), plastic-making consumes much energy while bamboo planting promotes tranquillity. The disposal of bamboo, the pollution, and energy consumed can be less to none. 

You do not want something to benefit in the short run, but giving a hidden problem for the long run.

Labour intensive means more skill-based exercise involved, more work opportunities. Higher labour costs can mean work opportunity scarcity or an unfavourable economy of scale of work (frequence of the job not meeting overhead or justify manpower).

When a minimum economy of scale of work can be achieved, i.e. occasionally having enough works to do, to replace worn bamboo structures and building envelopes, the price can go down in no time. In other words, mass production, mass opportunity, more work opportunity, lower cost. 

Labour needed, special skills related are also related to the question of globalization method versus vernacular.

You do not want to visit the world with only one kind of construction technique, the same kind of building material, or the same effect of the construction. Wouldn't it be sad to find that there is no indigenous method to learn anymore in this world when you travel places?   

There are some local designers and architects who express interest in exposed, fair-faced clay brickworks just to sustain the local skillset manifested in built form. This also promotes the opportunity for local craftmanship, preventing the extinction of local indigenous skills. Isn't the construction technique and local material the main ideas of making a place uniquely interesting everywhere in the world?

It is time to read up again on Critical Regionalism by Kenneth Frampton on the subject of tectonic and construction technique as a sense of place.