Pittsburgh — The University of Pittsburgh will soon be the epicenter of a global discussion in novel and groundbreaking analysis of bamboo as a safe and sustainable construction resource in urban areas. “Bamboo in the Urban Environment” will bring together some of the world’s leading experts in bamboo and sustainable design at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, May 4-6, 2016.

Participants will gather from the U.S. (and Puerto Rico) and UK, as well as Brazil, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, and Vietnam. The symposium is part of a University of Pittsburgh-led consortium created by the Global Innovation Initiative, a program funded by the U.S. and UK governments to foster multilateral research collaboration with higher education institutions in Brazil, China, India and Indonesia.

Led by symposium chair Kent A. Harries, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Swanson School, the consortium includes Coventry University (UK); collaborators at Bogor Agricultural University (Indonesia); the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (India); an intergovernmental partner, the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (China); and industry partners in the US and UK.

“Urban centers in developing and lagging countries often do not have the luxury to safe housing and other structures with traditional materials like wood, steel and polymers that we in first-world countries take for granted,” Dr. Harries explained. “Nearly one billion people worldwide already live in non-engineered or vernacular bamboo structures, and so this symposium presents an opportunity for architects, builders and engineers to apply our technical skills to a traditional yet resilient and sustainable construction material.

In addition to a range of presentations covering the latest bamboo research, the participants will discuss the development of structural engineered bamboo standards. A May 4 technical presentation, “Earth and Bamboo: Experience from Nepal,” by Nripal Adhikary, founder of ABARI, a socially and environmentally committed research, design and construction firm that examines, encourages, and celebrates the vernacular architectural tradition of Nepal will discuss construction methods in the country after the April 2015 earthquake. Mr. Adhikary has also been consulting Pitt’s Senior Architectural Design Studio class, whose focus was “post-earthquake Nepal.” Mr. Adhikary participated in the final project review for this course on April 28. The May 5 keynote is “Research and Development of Engineered Bamboo Structures – A State of the Art Report” by Yan Xiao, professor at Nanjing Technological University, China.

According to Dr. Harries, “There is an increasing socio-technical-economic gap developing between scientifically ‘advanced” countries (e.g. US and UK) and those that are “proficient’ (e.g. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), ‘developing’ (e.g. Indonesia) and ‘lagging’ (e.g. Nepal). For those proficient, developing or lagging countries, a lack of stable infrastructure is cited as a primary barrier to the adoption of technology, while the increased emphasis by advanced countries on ‘sustainable practices’ is viewed as largely unattainable. Compounding this, migration of the rural poor into urban centers places even greater pressure on informal urban settlements around the world. Exposure to natural hazards and the effects of global climate change further compound the global grand challenge of providing adequate and safe urban housing. Bamboo, one of the world’s oldest construction resources, is now being rediscovered as a viable, sustainable and engineered alternative to present construction practices in many areas of the world.”

Dr. Harries’ research interests include the use of non-traditional construction materials such as bamboo, which he describes as “the most rapidly renewable structural material in the world.” Bamboo can grow up to 30 meters in six months and be mature for structural purposes within three years, achieving mechanical properties that surpass those of oak. When used in its untransformed pole-form, bamboo has a smaller environmental impact than other conventional structural materials, including timber. Bamboo’s light weight and relative flexibility make it a particularly attractive alternative for residential construction in seismic regions.