According to the United Nations, approximately one billion people in the world live in sub-standard housing. Some researchers see a viable solution in a unlikely suspect: bamboo.
The plant is a safe and affordable resource that advocates believe could contribute to greener urban environments across the globe.
“It is the arguably one of the most sustainable construction materials on the face of the planet”, said Kent Harries, associate professor of structural engineering and mechanics at the University of Pittsburgh.
Harries was also a coordinator for a symposium on bamboo held locally last month. The meeting brought together academic and professional experts in the architectural, engineering and structural communities from 16 different countries each looking to establish recommendations for the implementation of bamboo as a mainstream construction material.
Bamboo is durable, strong, cost-effective and a safer option to concrete, according to Harries. These qualities are important in hazard mitigation, particularly in areas of the world that are prone to natural disasters or extreme weather conditions.
Nations' key proposals were compiled into a document dubbed the Pittsburgh Declaration, which is part of the Global Innovation Initiative, a program jointly funded program by the U.S. State Department and UK British Council that aims to create international standards and codes for construction use of bamboo – specifically in developing countries in the tropics.
Harries said the declaration “raises bamboo to the same level of understanding and acceptance as timber.” He said he wants to fight the stigma that bamboo-constructed buildings are solely for low-income neighborhoods. Columbia, Peru, China and India have already established their own standards and methods, he said, and there is growing interest from sub-Saharan countries.
Closer to home, Hawaii and Puerto Rico are developing local bamboo construction industries and companies in the American southeast are employing it as a material replacement for cotton or paper.
With the renewed vigor for development and research, Harries cautioned that without proper supervision the plant can become invasive.
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