Bamboo is fast-growing, strong and sustainable. But we often see it processed into things like plywood, rather than used in its original form. Why, when the fresh-cut rods seem perfectly serviceable?
Bamboo rods are "rarely used in modern construction," explains Low-Tech Lab (LOW), "because unlike construction lumber, it comes in non-standardized sizes." For instance, joining several pieces together cannot be done in a repeatable and predictable manner when those pieces come in random diameters.
LOW is a France-based collective of architects, designers, engineers, scientists and thinkers who prize discovering and implementing low-tech, low-cost, sustainable solutions to practical problems. In 2017 they found themselves in Zhejiang, China, where the rural hamlet of Zhongcun Village has a river running alongside it. Across the river, the nearby TreeWow development, "an ecological primitive treehouse resort," needed a pedestrian bridge in order to access the village.
The problem was that bridge-building materials are expensive, as is trucking them out to the rural site. LOW was hired to solve the problem. "The client's requirement for the bridge was to adhere to the primitive/ecological theme, and at the same time, have a low budget and short construction period. Those were our parameters throughout the design process," LOW says.
LOW explored the region and discovered an abundance of bamboo. Zhongcun Village had once been filled with artisans who knew how to work the stuff, and LOW reasoned that they would know how to consistently join unlike pieces together. While bamboo craftsmanship had gone into steep decline in the region, they eventually found their man.
"To fully explore the potential of bamboo, artisans' knowledge was introduced into the design process at the beginning. The local artisan, 84-year-old Mr. Guozhi Yu, occupied a crucial role in the initial phase of design, to fully inform the design team of the construction details. Because of the communication barrier—not just language, but LOW's architecture team being professionally trained, versus the experience-based training of Mr. Yu—we communicated primarily through drawings and models."
"Low-Tech Lab (LOW) offers a systemic solution for modern rural construction and explores a design method that integrates material, structure and construction. As the result, the cost and construction period has been reduced to the minimum. The bridge was constructed in 25 days and only cost 26,000 RMB (approximately USD $3,700), of which 5,000 RMB was for material costs and 21,000 RMB for labor."
"The project integrates modern aesthetics in the minimal form of the railing, and inherited bamboo craftsmanship in the elaborate bamboo arch structure. The form of the railing is inspired by the image of the thousand-year-old stone arch bridge, White Cloud Bridge and its reflection in the water, the elegance and serenity of it. The form is also defined by human experience. As visitors crosses the bridge from one side to another, the eyes follow the railing, being guided to different views: the mountain in the distance, the rivulet under the bridge and the treehouses at the end."