In a country where steel and cement dominant the bridges and building, Australian company Bambuco showed the English a new way of thinking when they installed a temporary bamboo footbridge over the river Tyne in 2007. The bridge itself was a temporary outdoor sculpture designed and built for the SummerTyne festival to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Tyne Bridge. Spanning 390 feet across the Tyne River, the impressive sight was at a slight angle across the river to really stand out and was built entirely from 20 tons of bamboo split into 80 pieces. The bridge stood for three days and there was even a spectacular light display to mark the occasion.
While the bridge itself was not open to foot or vehicular traffic, perhaps the Brits could take a lesson from China where bamboo is a common and popular building material. Because of its high tensile strength and ready availability, bamboo is used for construction ranging from houses to scaffolding to bridges.
Most recently a bamboo bridge was built in the Hunan Province as part of a series of projects from Yan Xiao who has been developing designs for foot-bridges and vehicle bridges made from bamboo. Xiao is a native of China who is now a professor at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering and holds an appointment at the College of Civil Engineering of the Hunan University in China. The bridge, built in the remote Leiyang Village, is sturdy enough to hold a fully loaded truck. The span was built within a week by a team of 8 workers without the need for any cumbersome heavy equipment. While it is limited to a 8-ton design, tests on the campus of Hunan University have shown its capacity to hold much higher weights.
An earlier project of Xiaos’ was a high capacity bamboo footbridge that was a featured attraction at a conference organized by Xiao in Changsha, China. Xiao expects his modern bamboo bridge technology to be widely used in pedestrian crossing, large number of bridges in rural areas in China, as a environmental friendly and sustainable construction material.
Xiao has been able to make strides due to the innovation of a product he calls GluBam. GluBam is a structural lumber made from laminated bamboo veneers that are pressed into beams. The beams can be cut and handled like traditional lumber but come from a rapidly renewable resource.
GluBam came about as Xiao addressed a major concern about using bamboo as a structural element. Bamboo is a remarkable material. Some species have stalks as dense as hardwood. It’s the world’s fastest-growing woody plant, and it’s an exceptionally good absorber of carbon. But its irregular, knotty form is a problem. Making a reliable bamboo structure used to mean picking through stalks to find the ones that met precise measurements. Timber, on the other hand, can be cut to standard sizes. So Xiao set about developing a process to transform bamboo strips into easy-to-manage beams. He devised GluBam, bamboo timber sturdy enough for beams and trusses. He used this remarkable product to construct the bridge in Leiyang and the feat was so surprising, it was covered on China’s national news.
Yan Xiao’s GluBam can also be used to construct classrooms and homes across China. GluBam will also be a great aid to developing countries like China that have vast bamboo forests but lack more robust traditional hardwood resources. By transforming the bamboo stalks into manageable beams, GluBam can be used for a variety of applications and can perform just as well as its hardwood counterparts.