By Brian Grau
Our team of Santa Clara University students is out to prove that bamboo is more than just a snack for Pandas — it could be the future of the sustainable construction industry. Bamboo provides the bones of Radiant House, our entry into the 2013 Solar Decathlon, where 20 schools from around the world compete to design and build a fully solar-powered home. While bamboo is typically used as a decorative material, we’ve found a way to make bamboo part of the structure of the house. Several generations of SCU students have spent 10 years turning bamboo into structural elements. Bamboo can be found in Radiant House’s walls, floor, and ceiling.
While the round shape of bamboo and its hollow culms, or stems, make the plant viable for forming “tiki hut-type structures” in tropical lands, it is not used for building much in other parts of the world, according to Project Manager Jake Gallau. Through a faculty member in SCU’s civil engineering department, though, we found a type of bamboo from Vietnam that makes the plant far more useful.
“It’s a particular strain of bamboo, smaller – about an inch around instead of three inches – and with a solid, not hollow culm,” Gallau explained. Because bamboo is both elegant and highly sustainable, it is usually integrated in some way within most solar house entries. But Gallau said Radiant House is the first to fully use the plant’s potential as a construction material. “With the type of bamboo we’re using, we can square off a large piece and make one-inch rods that can be doweled together for a flat surface,” he explained. “It’s much less labor-intensive than chopping up chunks and gluing pieces together.”