Historic Uses of Bamboo in Construction

Bamboo can be found all over the world, in tropical, sub-tropical, and mild-temperate climates.  In each of these climates, bamboo grows at sea level, all the way up to the snow line.  Consequently, since bamboo can be found in so many parts of the world, it has had lots of uses throughout history and today as a renewable resource.

Uses Throughout the World

Bamboo is a very strong plant, thanks to its woody structure and columnar structure.  Consequently, bamboo has been used frequently in construction throughout history, and in many different parts of the globe.  On our side of the world, you may recognize its fabric in bamboo sheets and bamboo blankets.  Mixtures of its fabrics have also been used in organic sheets and organic blankets.

  • China

Bamboo was a very popular wood to use for suspension bridges in China.  There is a suspension bridge that still stands today in Qian-Xian, that is referred to in writings that date back to 960 AD.  The bridge has been kept up through maintenance.

A bamboo suspension bridge, photo taken in 1925

A bamboo suspension bridge, photo taken in 1925

Bamboo has also been used for making scaffolds throughout Chinese history, and it is still in use today as an option for buildings with less than six stories.  Bamboo flooring is also a very popular commodity in China (and also in Japan), and it is still used today and is even now being exported to the western half of the globe.  This is accomplished by cutting the bamboo into sheets and planks, and then laminating these products.  In order to achieve this, workers start by cutting the stalks of bamboo into strips, which are then boiled and dried.  After this, the sheets can be easily glued together, pressed, and finished (so that it is not rough).

  • India

India currently boasts the world’s largest bamboo dome, which was built in 2010, and boasts a diameter of 34 meters, or 111.5 feet.  It was built for an international fair known as Expo 2010, which saw many pavilions being built in various countries to show pride in their country’s landscape and cityscape.  For instance, in Iceland, a pavilion in the shape of and ice cube was made to illustrate the theme of “better city, better life”.  The bamboo dome tried to illustrate the interaction between urban and rural areas of the country of India, as well as various other aspects of Indian culture, such as faith, language, and culture.  This bamboo dome is currently being displayed in Shanghai, China.

The Indian Pavilion at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China

The Indian Pavilion at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China

Interior view of the bamboo dome

Interior view of the bamboo dome

Rods of bamboo are used as a more stable form of clothesline in India.  These rods are hung up near the rafters of a house, so that clothes can dry.  The clothes are generally put up on these rods through the use of a bamboo stick.

Bamboo clothesline

Bamboo clothesline

Ladders are often made of bamboo in India as well.  However, in addition to their normal use for reaching higher places, these ladders are also used in funeral processions in order to transport the dead.

Bamboo poles are also very common in the Hindu culture generally, and used not only in India but throughout the world in other countries such as Guyana and Suriname in South America (which boast large Hindu populations).  These bamboo poles are used to fly religious flags that are usually of saffron color (a crimson color that comes from the spice of the saffron crocus, which can be found in India).

Hindu prayer flags in Trinidad

Hindu prayer flags in Trinidad

Historically, bamboo was also used to build suspension bridges in India just as it was in China.

  • Uses throughout the world

Bamboo has also been used in Japan for decorative purposes, especially for outside structures such as fences, gutters, etc.  Bamboo can be easily formed into shapes, which makes it easy to use for such purposes.  Arches or squares can be formed out of bamboo by compressing stalks that are still growing into that shape.  This ends up being a much cheaper resource than treating various types of wood to form these same shapes.

bamboo decoration

Bamboo has even been used as concrete reinforcement historically.  However, in order to ensure that the bamboo used with concrete does not absorb water, swell, and crack the concrete, the bamboo must be treated with several different processes.  Additionally, bamboo used in any form of construction must be treated against insects and rot, if it is desired to last for any extended period of time.  A solution composed of borax and boric acid is commonly used to accomplish this.  Another option is to boil the bamboo that is to be used for construction after it has been cut, as this will remove the starches found in the plant that attract insects.

Sources used:

“Bamboo.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Feb. 2013. Web. 21 Feb. 2013.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo#Uses

McClure, Floyd Alonzo. The Bamboos. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1993. Print.

“Expo 2010.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Feb. 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2013.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expo_2010

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