Pittsburgh — Bamboo has a critical role to play in the provision of safe and affordable housing and could be a key contributor to greener urban environments worldwide, according to a leading group of academics, architects and construction experts.

This strategic resource combines rapidly renewable properties, strength, and cost-effectiveness – making it an ideal building material and a potential driver of sustainable development in many parts of the world.

The case for bamboo is outlined in the ‘Pittsburgh Declaration’ – a global call-to-action that seeks to increase international recognition of the benefits of bamboo, and outline recommendations designed to more effectively harness the plant as a building material (http://engineering.pitt.edu/News/_Library/2016/Pittsburgh-Declaration). Its benefits have been recognized recently, following earthquakes in Nepal and Ecuador, where bamboo structures often fared better than buildings made from conventional construction material such as concrete. Bamboo is now expected to play an important role in both countries’ reconstruction.

The Declaration follows a meeting at the University of Pittsburgh — the Symposium on Bamboo in the Urban Environment, part of a U.S. State Department and UK British Council-funded Global innovation Initiative (GII) project that is supporting the development of bamboo as a sustainable and engineered alternative construction material.

The meeting, which brought together academic, private sector and civil society actors from 14 countries and territories, was jointly organized by the University of Pittsburgh, Coventry University, and the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), a multilateral organization with 41 member states.

To ensure bamboo is harnessed more effectively and becomes a viable building material for the future, the Declaration makes several recommendations. A key consideration is international standards – the plant’s use in modern structures has been previously hampered by a lack of formal standards and codes.

The Declaration therefore invites all bamboo-producer and consumer countries to participate in bamboo standard development within the newly established International Standards Organization (ISO) Technical Committee 296; and to share information and coordinate efforts on new harmonized, best-practice international ISO design standard for round culm bamboo. Other recommendations include inviting businesses, industry and academia to advance national and international standards cooperation; encouraging researchers and business to validate the adoption of testing standards; and requesting the development of a new standard on the structural uses of laminated bamboo.

“The Pittsburgh Declaration clearly demonstrates a growing consensus among experts on the need to harness bamboo as a building material,” says Oliver Frith, INBAR’s Global Programme Director. “Bamboo is a practical, cost-effective and sustainable option that will provide affordable, and as we have seen recently in Nepal and Ecuador, resilient and secure homes. The recommendations included in the Declaration are an important milestone and offer a framework to ensure the plant plays a more significant role in construction.”

“The international standardization process promulgated by the Declaration is instrumental to developing broad recognition of bamboo as an engineered construction material,” says Kent Harries, FACI, FIIFC, P.Eng., Associate Professor of Structural Engineering and Mechanics at Pitt’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and conference organizer. “Our continuing research at Pitt and other institutions have shown bamboo is one of nature’s perfect building materials, and is primed for greater international use. As the global population continues to increase and the threat of natural and climate disasters threaten greater numbers of people, bamboo is especially poised to become our go-to material for emergency shelters.”