Climbing the bamboo steps

Would we believe in the statement ‘Some of the newest ideas are based on the oldest practices’? On the face of it we may not, but if we look at the way bamboo is making a grand return, most of us may agree.

As we are searching for new ideas of design and solutions for eco-friendly living, we realise the past holds as many inspirations as the future can tempt us with. The long lengths, jointed body, light weight, easy workability and such others made it an excellent material for high walls and roofs. With a surface skin that can be easily peeled, bamboo provided varied products like woven baskets and floor mats. With a tensile strength beyond that of steel, it found popularity as supports for buildings and pavilions. At the other extreme end, bamboo shoots provided unparalleled options in food too!

People have climbed on a bamboo ladder ever since they lived in settled societies, especially in areas where bamboo grows. In the basic form, one would cut off the small branches leaving only a small part of it, such that they work as steps at staggered levels. This way, people could climb on a single bamboo pole, if it stays stable against a support and carry it around with ease. Then came the design with two poles interconnected with the steps, so one could get better hand grips and stability for the ladder itself.

Didn’t go further

However, bamboo did not go beyond this stage in a big way, where wooden and later concrete staircases dominated. But let us imagine a bamboo stairs just the way steel framed stair works – we get two inclined members on both the sides, they support the horizontal base, bamboo board is fitted to the base and the sides secured. There could be a riser member or we may drop it to get an open riser design. If a sturdier tread is desirable, the bamboo board can be placed on a thicker ply base. The railing can rise from the inclined side supports.


The major disadvantage of doing a bamboo staircase lies in handling the material, demanding both practice and skill. While nails can be used, they tend to go loose after some time; hence nuts and bolts perform better.

To that end, proper holes have to be drilled and nuts properly tightened. However, traditionally no metals were used; instead poles were secured into each other through cuts and ropes made from bamboo itself. Considering that bamboo comes in varying sizes, this method appears to be more effective.

If regions like Assam can live on bamboo staircases, Bangalore too can live on them. They combine beauty with functionality; cost efficiency with longevity; and provide visual tactile feel of a very different kind.

Doing a complete building in bamboo may be difficult in non-bamboo regions, but integrating it within the parts and elements of the structure is definitely doable.

(The writer is an architect, working for eco-friendly designs and can be contacted at

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 5:40:50 AM |

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