In recent years, many engineers and architects have been looking for new options for sustainable construction, and they have seen in bamboo an excellent opportunity to meet the aspirations of the global movement towards environmental sustainability.
Historically, bamboo has been used in many tropical countries as a structural material for building houses, bridges, ceremonial centres, handicrafts, and furniture. Bamboo has excellent mechanical properties, good seismic behaviour, a high strength-to-weight ratio, and is fast growing, among many other positive characteristics.
However, this material has some natural imperfections that industry and academia should address before it can succeed as a competitor to conventional materials, or as a complement or substitute for timber. In particular, bamboo structures require the development of new technologies and knowledge in topics regarding connections, shear strength, perpendicular strength and fire behaviour.
Bamboo, like timber, is a combustible material, meaning that bamboo structures are susceptible to damage or even failure during a fire. As timber is the most similar material to bamboo, it could be supposed that bamboo behaves similarly to timber in fire, but unfortunately, this has not always been demonstrated. Despite bamboo having been used for many years in small-scale traditional applications, the commercial bamboo construction industry is relatively new. Other bamboo sub-products have been created in order to solve some of these problems, and engineered bamboo is a good example of these new solutions.
Since 2016, the UQ Fire research group initiated a team investigating novel bamboo structural systems and the fire performance of bamboo as a structural material. UQ PhD and MPhil students (Ms Angela Solarte Castaneda, Mr Ian Pope, and Mr Mateo Gutierrez) are investigating the thermal properties of round and laminated bamboo in order to understand the behaviour of bamboo structures under fire conditions. The Bamboo-Fire team is also supported by Dr Cristian Maluk, Dr Joe Gattas, Dr Juan Hidalgo, and Prof Jose Torero.
Last December, some of these students visited several bamboo structures developed for the Woodford Folk Festival, near Brisbane, which provided a showcase for the potential of this material in Australia. These structures are largely the work of Australian architect Jed Long, a world bamboo ambassador who has tried to promote bamboo construction in Australia for many years, as well as a number of featured architects from around the world. Bamboo structures can be built as temporary or permanent structures and as bamboo grows natively in Australia, it could be an ideal complement for timber, the conventional natural material that Australians have commonly used.