Kochi-based architectural firm Inspiration, led by Jaigopal G. Rao and Latha Raman Jaigopal, specializes in developing greener strategies for homes, offices and resorts across urban and rural India using alternative technologies, techniques and materials. One material they advocate in particular is bamboo—its use in structural applications is backed by at least 20 years of research by K.R. Datye and Vilas Gore of Geo-Science Services, a geo-technical consultancy firm based in Mumbai.
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Inspiration’s 2,750 sq. ft office in Kochi is one such project, with bamboo used in the floor slabs, walls and roofs, and alongside large glass panes for a contemporary look. The project won an award in the “urban office buildings” category at the International Bamboo Building Design Competition (Hawaii, 2007). It also won a Hudco national award in the Design Ideas Competition 2004-05.
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In this building, bamboo has been used in combination with more conventional materials such as reinforced cement concrete (RCC) for columns, ferro-cement beams and a limited quantity of reinforced plaster, making it an easily replicable model.
“India has lots of bamboo, its availability as a natural source in our country puts us second only to China,” says Latha Raman Jaigopal, director, project implementation.
The harvest from a 60ha bamboo plantation is enough to build 1,000 bamboo-based houses a year. If an equivalent project used timber, she points out, it would require 500ha of forest cover. Plus, a single 60ft tree cut down for timber takes 60 years to replace. Bamboo grows to 60ft in 59 days.
As far as structural strength and stability are concerned, bamboo compares favourably with mild steel. A few bamboo species (there are at least 1,500 in all), are even said to be stronger than steel in terms of stiffness and tensile strength. The high strength and low weight of bamboo means that it is inherently earthquake- and cyclone-resistant. “It also reduces the weight of a multi-storeyed building by as much as 50% and the steel and cement required to hold it up by up to 60%,” says Jaigopal G. Rao, who is the managing partner and principal designer, Inspiration.
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One of the firm’s current projects is a 14-storey, 80-room hotel in which the use of bamboo is expected to save at least 1,500 bags of cement and around 150 tonnes of steel.
Inspiration also constructs prefabricated bamboo buildings. The architects believe these are comparable to contemporary concrete buildings in strength, functionality, aesthetics and costs.