Bamboo is the new steel

Bengaluru-based architect Neelam Manjunath takes the construction world by storm, by showing how bamboo can be used as a substitute for steel

Neelam Manjunath is a true-blue revolutionary whose methods are sometimes called radical, even. After all, she is promoting the use of bamboo as a replacement for steel in building construction. Proving that this is no tall claim, Manjunath says that bamboo has replaced 70 per cent of steel and wood in the constructions she has designed.

Founder of Bengaluru-based Manasaram Architects, Manjunath is a veteran of more than a hundred projects she has designed using bamboo as the principal material. “Green and sustainable construction in India is not an option any more; it is the only way left if we want the human race to survive,” says the architect.


Bamboo is as strong as steel

“Bamboo has a tensile strength that rivals steel and its weight-to-strength ratio surpasses that of graphite,” says Manjunath, who is also founding member and managing trustee of the Centre for Green Building Materials and Technology (CGBMT), Bengaluru.

“One column of bamboo produces enough oxygen for one’s lifetime. It also helps to save the planet from the effects of climate change because of its unrivalled capacity to capture carbon.”


Why use bamboo in construction

  • It can be used in structural applications such as columns, beams, walls, roofs and staircases.
  • It has a tensile strength that rivals steel.
  • It can replace 70 per cent of steel and wood in construction.
  • It can slow climate change because of its capacity to capture carbon.

See also: The increasing popularity of eco-friendly home products


Bamboo has multiple applications

Manjunath has worked with bamboo for 16 years and has used it to make walls, beams, columns, doors, windows, roofs, railings, fencing, staircases and boundary walls from the material. In the projects she has designed across the country, bamboo has completely replaced steel and concrete for columns and beams. It has also been used to make precast walls and roofs.

“The slab is cast with Bamboo Fibre Reinforced Concrete, which is lighter than conventional concrete,” says Manjunath, whose firm has notched up yet another achievement by being the only one that represented India at the Venice Architecture Biennale’s exhibition ‘Time-Space-Existence’ this year.


Bamboo is sustainable

The crusader for sustainable architecture says her first project was a VIP pantry for Raj Bhavan in Bangalore, in 2000.

“The governor, Ms Rama Devi, wanted it to be made with bamboo. The versatility of bamboo and the freedom in designing due to its properties and workability fascinated me. One can construct almost any type of building with it, from a toilet to metro stations, stadiums and airports,” reveals the architect and recipient of the World Architecture Community award (2013), Lafarge Invention Award (2011) and nominee for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (2013). She was also felicitated at the International Bamboo Conclave, 2014.

A graduate from the Government College of Architecture in Lucknow, Manjunath is currently working on housing projects at Aditi Greenscapes in Bengaluru. Other major projects to her credit are the Bamboo Centre, Agra; CGBMT headquarters – Sustainability Institute, Bengaluru; one of the metro stations in Bengaluru; the cafeteria at the Petroleum University in Gandhinagar, Gujarat; National Bamboo Centre in Rajaborari, Madhya Pradesh.

See also: All about keeping bamboo tree at home


Promoting bamboo among students

The greatest challenge to promoting bamboo in construction, is its perception as a temporary structure, Manjunath points out. “Also, the bamboo sector is not ready to take on financial and other risks to promote the material even though India is the second-largest producer of bamboo in the world, she says.

Manjunath believes she can make a lasting difference by introducing budding architects to this simple yet revolutionary material. Ruing that it is not part of the curriculum in architecture and engineering colleges, she is promoting the various applications of bamboo through vocational courses and by participating in exhibitions and lectures across the world. She is also working with her alma mater, Dayalbagh University, to start a nation-wide skill development programme for the bamboo sector.


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