We are too slow to catch up with bamboo usage in construction and our government is even slower in clearing policies to facilitate the use of the wonder material, says architect Neelam Manjunath in an interview with Nandhini Sundar

Talk of erecting a bamboo structure and the first thing that comes to mind is an exotic farm house in the form of a rural residence or a resort tucked away in wilderness. Step beyond these two spaces and the next image that comes to mind is a poor man’s house, built with this material as he can ill afford to use steel. Of course, bamboo has stolen a clear place in the literature of green architecture. But yet again we are talking about its presence in structure as a niche factor, a one of a kind that is to be enjoyed, experienced sparingly.

But how about using this green and generally perceived low cost material in the structure of a normal household where it replaces steel totally. A structure that can be totally exotic in its green manifestation by using a sustainable material and brings in all the five elements of nature into its fold, offering a totally serene space that is hard to leave. Hard to perceive? Perhaps not if the projects of Architect Neelam Manjunath of Manasaram Architects are to go by. A specialist in the use of bamboo in construction where steel is replaced totally, Neelam has used bamboo columns and beams in conventional buildings where the bamboo poles run through the concrete roofs. Here, the bamboo poles are left exposed in the columns and also partly in the concrete roof to enhance the aesthetics, lending a natural aura to the space while the free flowing interiors merge seamlessly with the outdoors and water bodies to incorporate the five elements of nature. The result not surprisingly is stunning while affording all the comfort and ambience of a normal household. Winner of multiple awards for her structures and construction methodologies, Neelam is renowned within the country and across the globe for her workshops and lectures on use of bamboo in construction. Espousing the environmental benefits of its use in construction, she discusses in detail with The Hindu-HABITAT the impediments currently preventing the wide use of bamboo and suggests ways by which use of this material can be popularised.

Some excerpts…

The use of bamboo in construction is yet to be universally accepted as a common material for structures. How can this perception be altered and use of bamboo be popularised?

A lot more research is required to be done in this sector. There is need for proper documentation of the existing traditional and contemporary bamboo buildings from across the world in the form of a usable database. This would serve as a ready reference for architects, engineers and designers. We also need to include bamboo as a building material for construction as part of the curriculum in architecture, engineering and design colleges. This would help understand the material better and popularise it.

The greater use of bamboo by architects and designers will position it better as a material of choice.

Bamboo has been used traditionally in construction in ancient days. Currently it is used more as a wilderness or a rural concept in resorts or for temporary structures. Can bamboo be used for conventional homes and even commercial spaces?

Bamboo was replaced in many of its uses with wood, steel and concrete by the British and this practice has been followed by most of the colonized world for a long time. But times are changing and bamboo is gaining popularity as the greenest material. It is currently being used in all kinds of projects, be it housing, public buildings, even infrastructure projects across the globe.

Besides being sustainable, what features in bamboo makes it attractive to be used in construction?

Bamboo entails low transportation costs, labour costs, ease of construction and building aesthetics with a soulful ambience. It also offers the freedom to design the way you want.

The main impediment to the use of bamboo is its perceived temporary or short lifespan. If so, how can this mind set be altered?

We need to have bamboo depots where treated and graded bamboo can be available off the shelf for use. These depots should supply bamboo from registered and certified treatment plants. This will solve the problem.

Bamboo use is more popular in East Asian countries as compared to India. Why so? Are their designs different and more long lasting or is it lifestyle, different perception.

It is nothing of that sort. We are too slow to catch up and our government is even slower in clearing policies to facilitate the use of bamboo. Policy changes and skill development programs can change this scenario.

Can bamboo be used to address low cost housing issues and solve poor man’s housing problems?

Definitely. It can contribute a great deal here.