18 Dec IN HOUSE OUT HOUSE | Students Talk Sustainable Architecture
Students discuss bamboo’s place
in sustainable architecture
Recently, the CSIRO confirmed that Australia’s climate is getting warmer. Climate change is no longer a thought for the future, it’s a concern for the here and now. That’s why I found it so heartening to participate in an online forum a few weeks ago with a group of Architecture Students, organised by Student Organised Network for Architecture (SONA) at UNSW. As someone who has studied architecture at the University of New South Wales, it was wonderful to meet this group of bright, capable, young people who are the future of the industry.
The Future of Sustainability
Our discussion was largely centred on sustainability in architecture. And while this wasn’t a subject on offer when I was studying, it clearly is very much at the forefront for this new generation of architects. However, it pretty quickly became clear that despite their obvious passion for sustainability in their industry, the students talked about how hard it is for them (and the university) to keep up to date with the latest developments in sustainable materials. It seems to be challenging to find the correct technical specifications for the materials they might want to use, so the students found themselves falling back on the same old materials
simply because it was easier to do so.
Interestingly enough, this is a common issue we hear among architects and part of the reason myself and other leaders in the industry are pushing for specifications for bamboo
A Mix of Discipline
Another key theme that emerged was that while the students have a strong desire to use sustainable materials wherever they could, to do so often required them having to work with other disciplines, such as engineering, in order to incorporate sustainable elements into their initial design ideas.
These discussions with other disciplines obviously need to take place early in the design process, but sometimes this isn’t possible, so essentially it often becomes too late for sustainability to be incorporated as a factor in the project. And so, it’s left out and not considered as much as the students would like it to be.
Eco-trends or Eco-essentials?
It was also interesting to see a heated discussion about whether or not sustainability was just a ‘buzzword’, but when I began talking about the true sustainable credentials of bamboo, the discussion faded.
I spoke about how bamboo stores four times the carbon of timber and produces 35% more oxygen than trees. And that’s just in the growing phase. It’s harvestable after just four years and new plants regrow from the same root system.
On top of that, bamboo holds water in the soil, prevents soil erosion and combats deforestation. So, it became evident to the group that sustainability, especially from materials such as bamboo, is not just a ‘buzzword’, it’s a practical choice for construction and a practical choice for the environment. This is even more apparent when we look at engineered bamboo, which can be created in a round or square profile so that it can be used in every way that timber can be.
Promoting bamboo in design
We ended the discussion with many of the young architects admitting that had they known more about the exceptional sustainable qualities of bamboo, they would’ve been more likely to specify it and will do so in the future.
My only request to them going forward was when working on a project that involves timber, to simply ask themselves, “Could I do that in bamboo instead”?
If more architects asked this question on a daily basis, we would see bamboo becoming both a staple of construction and an essential feature in design.
Traditionally bamboo has been used to create low-cost homes in mainly rural areas, and recently high-end designs at the other end of the market, however, Malaysian architect Eleena Jamil believes bamboo should be seen as a ‘modern and everyday construction material just like bricks, steel or concrete’. Her proposal is to use bamboo to build permanent and comfortable contemporary homes in suburban areas by incorporating bamboo into the entire structure of her bamboo terrace homes. This includes using it for load bearing walls, balconies and roofing in an aesthetically pleasing and economical way.