Bamboo for Sustainable Cities

Last month, I was in Shenzhen, southern China, where I spoke at the first International Forest City Conference about using bamboo for urban parks and human wellbeing. This conference brought together some 400 participants from around the world and all over China, to discuss green urban development, within Chinese parameters. The concept of Forest Cities was launched several years ago, and it is resonating in China as a way to express eco-civilisation and eco-culture in an urban context.


Eco-civilisation is sustainable development within a Chinese context. It includes the three traditional socio-economic and environmental aspects of development, but incorporates also culture and governance. Eco-civilisation started as a scientific concept, but it is now fully supported by the Chinese political leadership, as was explained during the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development that I attended in Beijing in December.


Eco-civilisation is China’s way to protect the environment, restore degraded ecosystems and raise awareness about resource efficiency and green economic development. This includes the promotion of renewable energy in cities to curb pollution, but also re-thinking spatial planning and the need for green spaces. The 42 Member States of INBAR have identified 6 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) where bamboo and rattan can make a significant difference, and this includes SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities.

INBAR’s main entry point for SDG 11 is the first target that aims to “ensure access to adequate, safe and affordable housing”, as bamboo is a cheap and secure building material in the Global South. INBAR has just carried out an assessment of the damage that bamboo constructions sustained after the earthquake in Ecuador, and the findings support the assumption that bamboo bends but does not break.


Unlike many brick and concrete buildings, Most of the bamboo constructions in the earth-quake affected area are still standing, often with only minor damage.


In the Andean Region, bamboo is predominantly used as round poles in the so called Bahareque building methodology. INBAR has recently produced guidelines for this particular method of construction in partnership with ARUP ( This is the first time that we have published a report together with a large global firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists, Working with a renowned global industry player is a way to confirm that the construction is sound from an engineering perspective, and not just promotion of bamboo by INBAR.


Round pole construction can be extremely impressive, as is illustrated by the buildings constructed by Simón Vélez, a world famous bamboo architect from Colombia. For Expo Hanover 2000, he designed and constructed a 2000-square-meter bamboo pavilion for ZERI Foundation. It was the first time in history that a bamboo structure received a building permit in Germany.  He also made impressive structures in his native Colombia, including this amazing church.


Church in Colombia by Simon Velez


In 2009, Simon Velez was recipient of the coveted Prince Claus Award, in recognition of his use of bamboo in construction. The award is annually awarded by the Prince Claus Fund, which is named in honor of Prince Claus of The Netherlands.

The round bamboo poles can also be transformed into square beams and planks through splitting the pole and glueing the pieces together under pressure. This is the preferred technology in China, and the “engineered bamboo” provides a full range of construction and architecture opportunities. INBAR is working closely with Moso International from the Netherlands, to promote this particular use of bamboo, and the photo below of Schiphol Airport Lounge 2 is a recent example of their work.

Lounge 2, Schiphol

Schiphol Airport by Moso International BV


Another target SDG 11 – target 7 – aims to provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities. This is where I focused my contribution to the International Forest City Conference.  Research in the University of Sheffield in 2015 found that urban green spaces provide environmental benefits through their effects on negating urban heat, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, and attenuating storm water. They also have direct health benefits by providing urban residents spaces for physical activity and social interaction, and allowing psychological restoration to take place.

In Europe and the USA, these open spaces are normally planted with trees and bushes, but there is no reason why in the tropics green urban spaces cannot be planted with bamboo. Shenzhen has good examples of this.  On the internet, I found reference to the Jade Bamboo Cultural Plaza in Shenzhen, which is a recent urban development project by a local company ( Bamboo is used in the natural vegetation islands, as bamboos are indigenous to Shenzhen.

During the conference, I visited the Shenzhen bamboo park, which is an extensive public space with a good collection of different bamboo species that provides room for recreation, exercise and general wellbeing. The park straddles a hill, and the main path is a circular walk, with diversions to the left and right. There is a lot of bamboo, and there are carvings and statues focused on bamboo.



This park in Shenzhen reminded me also of the Black Bamboo Park (formerly Purple Bamboo Park) in Beijing. ( This is another large park with many bamboo species that is used for Tai Chi, dancing, exercise and all sorts of pastimes. The Beijing bamboo park is flat and has several lakes, but there is as much bamboo in the Black Bamboo Garden as there is in the Shenzhen Bamboo Park.


I dealt with another aspect of urban development and bamboo in early December, when I signed the partnership agreement with the Engineering Research Center for Bamboo Winding Composites (ERCBWC) of the China State Forestry Administration. ERCBWC promotes the development of innovative composite material through winding of bamboo fibres. One of the key products that they are manufacturing are pipes for storm drainage or waste water transport, that can be used in an urban environment. The key characteristic is that the fibres used are bamboo fibres, instead of silica or other more expensive and less environmental fibres. The bamboo winding pipes are as durable as other pipes, have a lower carbon and environmental footprint and – most important – are cheaper than traditional alternatives. This could be a practical example of green procurement!


Bamboo certainly has a place for urban parks and human wellbeing in China. It could have a similar role in the urban environment of other countries with natural bamboo, which was the subject of a conference in Pittsburgh earlier on the year. The resulting “Pittsburgh Declaration” is a call for action by leading construction experts to ensure bamboo plays a critical role in the provision of safe and affordable housing, and becomes a key driver of greener urban environments.







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