Designing and Building Big with Sustainable, Code-Certified, Structural Bamboo

Designing and Building Big with Sustainable, Code-Certified, Structural Bamboo By Sam Small, Vice President – Developing Markets, Bamboo Technologies

Bamboo is one of, if not the fastest growing plant on earth and wherever it grows it’s been used as building material for as long as humans have been building. But now that it’s been certified that properly treated Structural Bamboo meets international building codes, bamboo has become one of the fastest growing structural building materials in the worldwide sustainable construction industry. The largest modern bamboo building built so far: 55,200 Sq Ft.

The International Code Council (ICC) certified in 2004 that Structural Bamboo Poles produced by Hawaii-based Bamboo Technologies comply with International Building Code (IBC), International residential Code (IRC) and Uniform Building Code (UBC) standards and since then over 100 building-code compliant bamboo structures used as homes and vacation resorts have been pre-fabricated and shipped from the BT factory in Viet Nam to be re-assembled on sites all around the world.

The international certification was the result of years of research and testing to find ways to protect bamboo from insects and rot and it paved the way for the legitimate use of structural bamboo by architects, designers and builders worldwide in all sorts of applications. Whatever architectural expression, residential, commercial, even bridges, that have historically been built using wood, can potentially be built “to code” using structural bamboo instead.

But Bamboo has particular characteristics and strengths that are different from other building materials, which deserve to be fully explored by architects and engineers. Bamboo is an extremely strong fiber; with twice the compressive strength of concrete and roughly the same strengthto- weight ratio of steel in tension. It’s extremely lightweight by comparison: just four workers can lift a 26 ft long triangular bamboo roof truss into position by hand. The known limits of Structural Bamboo continue to be pushed: some of what has been achieved to date include a 90 foot Free-Spanning Truss, 30 foot roof eaves and Multi-story construction.

How do you entice the best minds in architecture, design and engineering from around the world to focus on what can be built out of Structural Bamboo and what service these structures can provide? You sponsor an International Bamboo Design Competition. And so BT did! Bamboo Technologies, INBAR (International Network of Bamboo & Rattan) and the International Bamboo Foundation sponsored the competition. We offered over $12,000 in cash awards, the opportunity to have winning designs commercially produced by BT and inclusion in a globally distributed book and traveling exhibition. With cash prizes offered, word sure got around and we garnered over 100 relevant web mentions about the competition.

Contestants registered from 64 countries and submitted 250 designs in 12 building categories such as family housing, urban, emergency, commercial and public buildings, even tree-houses. An international panel of 16 jurors selected the winners based on Utility (functionality), Strength (structural integrity), Beauty (aesthetic appeal), Concept and Design Development, graphic Layout and Use and Expression of Bamboo.

The first place winner was a Commercial/Public Building, The METI School in Bangladesh, Architects: Anna Heringer & Eike Roswag, Germany. The school was hand-built with the support of local craftsmen, pupils, and teachers. The upper story consists of a triple-layer floor (bamboo panels layered with a straw-clay mixture) over a framework of bamboo floor joists spanning perpendicular to the building. The elevation cladding is made of bamboo strips mounted to the supporting pole construction. The connections between bamboo poles are anchored with steel dowel and bound with nylon rope. No special machinery was required. With the exception of holes bored using an electric drill, all work was undertaken by hand. This building also won the Aga Kahn Award for Architecture in 2007.

The second place winner entered as a Pavilion, Conference Center, and Roof Structure. The Café of Wind and Water in the southern province of Binh

Duong, Vietnam, Architects: Vo Trong Nghia & Nguyen Hoa Hiep: Vietnam. This structure is expressed as three component parts: roof, room and a 150mm deep pool. It has angular bamboo as the major construction material with limited amounts of steel. Otherwise the whole roof construction is locally sourced organic material, with rattan ties and a water-coconut roof covering. The design incorporates aerodynamic, evaporative cooling and passive ventilation strategies: The generous roof not only provides essential shade from the Vietnamese sun, but is also shaped to direct the wind to be cooled as it passes over the pond and then drawn through the space.

The Appreciation Award, voted on by the contest entrants also entered as a Pavilion, Conference Center, Roof Structure by Architects Marek Keppl & Toma Korec: Slovak Republic.

The aim of their Bamboo Pavilion was to create a space, where roof, walls, and support construction would work as one. Using the parabolic curve and bamboo’s natural flexibility, these designers have created a lightweight structure and a pleasant, light filled environment for people to gather. Rainwater runs down the outside surface of the membrane on the conic cylinders and into retaining canals in the foundation. The Bamboo Fashion House entered as an Urban Building by Architect Chan Chee Hau, is designed to occupy a full city block in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with five floors of retail space. The designer had to juxtapose shading the building while allowing for open viewing and exhibit spaces to draw customers in. The building is shaded on the side with the most sun exposure by a roof of curved bamboo covered with a waterproof membrane, and bamboo is used structurally and decoratively throughout the building.

These are just a few of the dazzling design ideas presented in the book that resulted from this competition: Visionary Bamboo: designs for Ecological Living. Its offered as inspiration and proof that Bamboo can and will be a significant building product that can enrich and transform architecture and design into a more sustainable and organic medium for everyone’s benefit.

And now a new competition "Design for an Eco-friendly Community" is being sponsored by,, INBAR and Bamboo Technologies and is welcoming hybrid designs using at least 25% Bamboo. Entrants will be able to add their visions to an interactive 3-D eco-community on-line at arcspace Island in the virtual world called Winners will have the opportunity to see their buildings built in bamboo forests in China and on the real-world island of Maui.

Other recently built structures also show the diversity in style that can be effected capitalizing on the strength of Structural Bamboo: The Nomadic Museum at the Zócalo, in Mexico City, designed by Colombian architect Simón Vélez, is the largest bamboo structure yet built. "Bamboo’s relationship to weight and resistance is the best in the world. Anything built with steel, I can do in bamboo faster and just as cheaply," said Velez. Velez’s 55,200 square-foot structure containing two galleries and three distinct theatres is composed primarily of bamboo and utilizes other recyclable and reusable materials that demonstrate sustainable practices and an innovative architectural approach. The museum houses Canadian artist Gregory Colbert’s “Ashes and Snow”, tapestry-sized photos of humans interacting with animals.

It’s also worth noting that building with Structural Bamboo doesn’t require that the building look like a bamboo building. Bamboo Technologies’ architect David Sands designed the Hip House to look like any other house, even though the primary structural elements are Bamboo. The photo here shows connected Hip Houses with tile roofs and cement and stucco walls. It’s available with a dual wall construction that facilitates insulation, making the design and application of Structural Bamboo appropriate for virtually any climate, cold or hot.

Bamboo is the next green building evolution, and it’s heading your way. This giant grass is… Renewable: it takes 60 years for a tree to grow 60 feet, bamboo can grow as tall in 60 days; Restorative: bamboo absorbs more CO2 and releases 30% more oxygen than a tree; and Strong: in Costa Rica, all 30 bamboo houses at the epicenter of a 7.6 magnitude earthquake survived without any damage, and all of the code-certified buildings built by Bamboo Technologies are hurricane rated for sustained 180 mile an hour winds. Now code-certified Structural Bamboo is available for use by architects and engineers throughout the world on projects the scope of which will surprise you.

Sam Small is Vice President of Developing Markets with Bamboo Technologies, based in Maui, Hawaii. After a successful career in mass media, culminating with 8 yrs service in the unique position of V.P. of Broadcast Production at Prudential Financial where he directed and edited over 200 national TV spots promoting the firm through one of the largest public offerings in the history of Wall Street, Sam Small has turned his sights towards promoting Bamboo as a sustainable and globally appropriate construction material. Originally a customer of Bamboo Technologies, Sam was so impressed with the product and the company that he became directly involved. He has so far supervised the assembly and finishing of three bamboo structures, and currently lives in a bamboo house on Maui. Mr Small can be contacted at 808-572-1007 or  Visit

All articles by this author:

The Greenest Resorts – Built from Prefabricated, Modular Bamboo Panels

Designing and Building Big with Sustainable, Code-Certified, Structural Bamboo

Steel…Concrete…Bamboo? Sustainable Construction With Tropical Style, For Any Climate

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