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Bamboo solution - bamboo as building material

Bamboo expert Jules Janssen is admiring a stalk of Bambusa vulgaris. A popular ornamental, the plant can be seen in Chinese brush paintings and along the quiet pathways of Buddhist monasteries. But the beauty of this particular piece, in Janssen's eyes, has nothing to do with its graceful proportions or its polished yellow hull. It has to do with the 78 newtons per square millimeter of compression force it has just withstood.

Janssen is not a botanist but a civil engineer. He works in a basement lab at the Eindhoven University of Technology in Holland. There, amid the shudder and clang of rebar and aluminum, he ponders the biomechanics of lignin and nodes. While his colleagues grapple with the finer points of better bridges and faster freeways, he gives thought to the pleasing practicalities of bamboo houses.

Janssen believes that for building affordable housing in tropical countries, bamboo is usually best. Ounce for ounce, bamboo is stronger than wood, brick, and concrete. Consider the aforementioned compression test. What that figure means is that, compared with, say, concrete, bamboo can withstand twice as much force bearing down on it. A short, straight column of bamboo with a top surface area of 10 square centimeters could support an 11,000-pound elephant.

The compression test is carried out on a menacing 12-foot-tall machine, equal parts guillotine and sledgehammer, in Janssen's Bamboo Laboratory. He is taking me on a tour of the facility. A large sign on the machine's hull says DRUKBANK.

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