School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape

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How can architects increase the use of full-culm bamboo to provide adequate urban housing in tropical developing countries?

PGR Student John Naylor travelled to Lombok, Indonesia for a research trip as part of his wider PhD study

We cannot continue building with unsustainable construction materials while achieving our Paris Agreement on climate change CO2 targets, and UN Sustainable Development Goals. With developing countries becoming increasingly urbanised, bamboo could be a strong and sustainable alternative to concrete. In recent years, the architectural community has begun to embrace bamboo as a building material. However a widely claimed barrier to bamboo being more widely used in construction is the fact is that in many developing economies there is a perception of bamboo as the ‘poor man’s timber’ and this can negatively influence the choice of materials used in housing. The reasons these perceptions are prevalent in contemporary society has not been fully explored and therefore, why is bamboo perceived as the ‘poor man’s timber’ and how can we remove this stigma of full-culm bamboo? 

Survey Information

As part of this investigation I visited Lombok to do initial surveys of residents of Tanjung Town in the North West of the island and hold an exhibition to present design work of students from the last AAVS BambooLab course at the Institut Teknologi Bandung.

Questionnaire were translated into Bahasa Indonesia and a stall was set up at the local mosque in order to give a space for participants to complete the survey. The survey itself was split into Thurstone and Guttman scale questions about attitudes to bamboo in construction and then a request to rank what are the most important issues when considering building a house. Following the surveys visitors were encouraged to see the exhibition to see the design work of students from the previous year and engage in further conversation regarding bamboo as a material for housing and vote for their favourite design with post it notes, as well as being encouraged to add comments to these notes. It is with great thanks to Andry Widyowijatnoko and Rakhmat Aditra from the Institut Teknologi Bandung, Bandung, Indonesian order to make this possible.

Bamboo 1     Bamboo 2

Bamboo 3

PhD Research Abstract

In our world, one in eight people live in housing which lacks structural quality, durability and is considered non-adequate (UN Habitat 2018), and tropical developing economies are some of the most vulnerable societies to natural disasters. (Edelman et al. 2014)(International Monetary Fund. 2018. 2018)(UN OHCHR 2014). In tropical countries, the urbanisation rate has increased to 3.3% per annum, therefore the need for urban adequate housing will increase (Edelman et al. 2014). By 2050, cement production is predicted to increase by 23% even through currently it is the largest source of anthropogenic emissions of CO2. Sand for construction is also being unsustainably sourced which in the coming decades will affect the concrete supply chain, simultaneously increasing the vulnerability of communities to tropical cyclones (Harvey 2018)(Andrew 2017)(Torres et al. 2017).

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 11.1 targets by 2030 the access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing, and 11.C asks to support least developed countries by building sustainable and resilient buildings utilising local materials (UN-Habitat 2016). Tropical countries produce a range of natural materials which can be used in construction that are sustainable, lightweight, locally available and low cost. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing natural construction materials and has good tensile and compressive properties (Janssen 2000). Many species of tropical woody bamboos utilisable for construction grow to a great extent in tropical countries, making them locally available to these vulnerable societies (Lobovikov et al. 2007). Full culm bamboo is the natural unprocessed form of bamboo and offers strength and affordability. In many tropical countries, bamboo has been used in construction for centuries, however, there is hesitancy for residents to choose to live in a bamboo house given a perception of bamboo as un-durable, non-permanent and the ‘poor man’s timber’ (INBAR 2003).

The engineering profession has made great advances in understanding how bamboo can be used in construction over the past two decades (Trujillo 2018).  However, the architect, as designer, will have to be active to raise awareness of new sustainable, locally available natural materials, and to do this will therefore need to learn new methodologies to design for full-culm bamboo. The architect can then synthesise the advances of the engineering field which ensure durability and structural stability, and deliver, through inclusive and community participatory design practices, adequate housing for urban areas, which is functional and aesthetically pleasing for residents to democratically choose. This raises the question: how can architects increase the use of full-culm bamboo to provide adequate urban housing in tropical developing economies?

published on: 9 July 2019