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Rediscovering building materials of old

Sustainable building has long since left behind its reputation as an eco-trend. Today, scarce raw materials like sand are the driving force that makes architects, builders and scientists look at alternatives. The worldwide settlement by Europeans, who succeeded the seafaring conquerors, also plays a role.

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- Bamboo instead of steel and concrete. Discover the unexploited possibilities of bamboo in house building and sustainable living.

Building materials of the past

In Europe and the world, stone, wood and plants are traditionally used in construction. The log house construction method or loam construction are just a few examples. The seafaring discoverers learned that a previously unknown plant species served as a building material when they reached foreign shores on other continents: bamboo. The [i]Bambusoideae[/i] of the sweet grass family are found worldwide, except in Europe and Antarctica. Bamboo was used as a building material practically everywhere until stone and steel from Europe revolutionised the original style of construction.

Dominance of steel and concrete today

Humans only achieved dizzying construction heights with the steel skeleton in the concrete shell. While high-quality steel is expensive, concrete is running out of needed sand. Stocks are decreasing worldwide. And unfortunately, the deserts of the earth are not the answer - it is not the material itself that matters, but the grain size and shape. This intensifies the search for alternative building materials and ideas for sustainable housing. The gaze extends beyond the local flora and discovers bamboo as a material with amazing properties.

Sturdy as steel

In China they are still in daily use today: scaffolds made of bamboo cane. With their help workers build many a remarkable skyline. The bamboo scaffold is lighter than a steel scaffold and made entirely from renewable resources.

- The ratio of dead weight to payload is better than with steel.

- In terms of tensile strength, bamboo even reaches two and a half times this value.

- Its surface hardness is higher than that of many wood species and comparable to beech.

However, measurements have also shown a degree of hardness close to concrete. In earthquake-prone regions, the elasticity and flexibility of bamboo is important. Steel simply breaks.

Almost unlimited availability

Some types of bamboo grow up to 1 m per day and can reach a height of 40 m. Bamboo is found in particular in the developing countries where the new megacities are emerging. Bamboo is mainly used for flat buildings. That will change. In Germany, too, various institutes are working on testing the properties of the plant for its suitability as a building material. For the construction with bamboo a pre-treatment is indispensable: After felling, the stalks dry for about 20 days. A solution with borax - a naturally occurring mineral - makes the bark-free grass weatherproof. Pests also avoid the treated material.

What about here in Germany?

Bamboo is an imported product like many other building materials. With one advantage: It grows back and proves to be ecologically valuable. For one thing, bamboo produces more oxygen than trees. In flood plains it also helps to regulate the flood level. Sweet grasses absorb amazing amounts of water in the stem and store it temporarily. If we encounter bamboo in this country, it is often as an added tropical touch to the interior decoration or the pool. Thus, the giant grass is strongly underrated. Not only its excellent technical properties, but also its high insulation value make bamboo interesting - completely without visible stalks!

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