Conscious construction

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ccConstruction is beautiful, from planning till completion, the combination of different materials, the process of binding these materials, the location, engineering and the purpose of a building are all part of this wonderful process. The question, why do we build the way we do? And do we need to change the way we build to be more sustainable?

The past decade sustainable construction, eco-friendly buildings and corporate social responsibility have become a large part of the construction industry.

The increase in the human population and the development in the world to shelter the population, plus a decrease in materials and the costs involved in construction has provided the perfect opportunity to use a sustainable product. I’ve always loved bamboo as a plant, I can’t tell you exactly why that is so, but maybe it has something to do with the natural sequence of the internodes in the stem. Besides the beauty of the plant, bamboo has an essence and functionality in rendering strength and tranquility.

Whist doing my university degree studying Construction Engineering, I started to see the link between bamboo and construction. Bamboo has been used for generations and is continuing to be used in construction and design in many parts of the world. Our final year research team had the task of investigating the possibility of waste elimination in construction, waste being from non- biodegradable materials used in building. We asked ourselves why it would be a problem to have waste if the waste is biodegradable in every scope. So waste is not a problem if firstly we consider the building material we start with, rather than trying to solve the effects of polluting materials after the material has been utilized. The only reason to reduce waste is to minimize storing, environmental impact, production and transportation of waste.

Bamboo as the basic material in building has proven to be viable in strength, sustainability, versatility, appearance, affordability, durability and its biodegradable. It has proven to be all of this in the past and present in regions of Asia where for centuries it has been the primary item in construction. If Bamboo is used the waste of construction is completely different to other construction materials. So why is bamboo not used in the rest of the world?

During my research I worked with Indonesian Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta Java, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering with Assistant Professor Ashar Saputra, PhD, we collaborated on issues of sustainable construction and the benefits of using bamboo. The Department along with myself also attended the Platform for green industry, International bamboo conference in Yogyakarta Java 12-14 November 2012. Our research and discussions also offered us the opportunity to work with and see first hand the bamboo construction industry with Setaya Daya Bamboo Yogyakarta, one of the most prominent Bamboo construction company’s in Java Indonesia.

The outcome of such discussions is that the materials we use have to sustain our building demands, strength, versatility, affordability, and be durable because we cannot afford the time and money to replace it, neither in Asia or the rest of the world. Certain construction materials are depleting our resources like rainforests for timber, limestone for the production of cement and iron ore for steel production. Not to mention the enormous CO2 emission and immense use of energy to produce and distribute all these materials.

For every stage in the construction process and the overview of the lifespan of a building, we should investigate deeply into what impacts it has on every scope. Many factors should be taken into consideration, type of materials for instance, bio-degradability, durability, location / access where it comes from (in order to minimize transportation), the scarcity, renewability, versatility and the community from which the resource is sourced. My research and my collaboration with Indonesia for the use of bamboo as a construction material has shown it has outstanding properties, if used in the right way it can even compete with steel. It’s bio degradable and it grows back in five years so it’s a very fast renewable resource. I am not suggesting clearing rainforest and having large, scale plantations of bamboo, or having disadvantaged communities and persons at a greater loss, I am offering my research as a method of exploration into a material that is used in some parts of the world, of great benefit to construction and design, is available, and most importantly is natural and is not depleting a mineral resource.

This mindset in planning construction and design in regard to materials should be considered for all stages of the construction process. There has been advancement in design to optimize on light and wind, solar power heating and cooling systems, which run on natural energy. Scarcity of building materials and cost has driven such changes. Effectively working with the environment has proven to be successful and we are able to continue to make changes and investigate new ideas. Research has shown bamboo can be used effectively and has the capacity to benefit the construction and design industry in innumerable ways.


Rijk van de Sandt is a construction engineer and has been working as a project coordinator in the industrial sound insulation business. Currently, he is working as a site construction manager for the building of aluminum silos worldwide. In between jobs he is researching bamboo for the use of construction material. For this research he has, among other places, traveled to Indonesia. His aim is to develop a durable and sustainable bamboo structure suitable for different types of construction. In this article he shares his personal vision on the future of construction on a global scale.

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