Between 2018-2021 a team of faculty and students at Virginia Tech began to explore bamboo through several initiatives. It was all in an effort to retool or rethink how western design, fabrication, and construction of these amazing grasses could find more prominence. The benefits of bamboo as a rapidly renewable, low-carbon, sustainable material is well established, however, bamboo remains underutilized globally due to its idiosyncratic characteristics as well as deeply-rooted aesthetic stigmas especially in western culture.

One of these projects “Retooling Bamboo Tectonics” aims to examine and shift the way bamboo is perceived and used. Transitioning it from an irregular vernacular material to a semi-standardizable, affordable, intelligent, digitally-enhanced frame system for creating unique symbiotic structures; compromising between designer intention and bamboo’s biological capabilities. The current work is not only the designed structures / artifacts of the group’s testing but also the design and development of computational toolsets and tooling to support these efforts. These include

  • Noninvasive evaluation techniques including photogrammetry, such as low-cost 3D scanning and nondestructive structural testing procedures.
  • The development of the bamboo machining techniques that include specialized 4 axis positioning jigs as well as the development of a stand-alone low-cost open-source DIY 4-axis rotary CNC machine (VT BCNC) for the milling of unique joints in structural bamboo components.
  • The development of computational and early-stage generative design strategies and scripts to make designing with bamboo something that can be explored with fidelity, confidence, and moderate speed.

During the 2020-2021 academic year the project has really come into focus and a team of students through paid research positions and course work have realized two structures to support this research that will be on display behind Hauptman’s Bamboo Lab at the Research and Demonstration Facility (RDF).

First, a red totem-like artifact explores concavity, solidity, joinery, parametric design with bamboo while a second larger and blue reciprocal space frame artifact builds upon this initial development and explores convexity, amplified scalings, simplified joints, increased reliability of structural attachment, and a modest attempt at a generative design in which pole geometry is considered and impacts an otherwise predictable and repeatable symmetric intention, rendering a nuanced off-balanced assembly creating a symbiotic dialogue between design structure of human intent and that of nature contained within various irregular bamboo poles. In 2021-2022 the research will continue to accelerate in scale and complexity and a 3rd and final yellow artifact is in the early stages of planning.

These projects are a result of not only faculty and graduate students led research but also numerous independent studies, several previous courses, and a recent course under Hauptman’s direction led by peer mentors; Alex Munro (Industrial Design Senior) & Josie Price (Interior Design Senior/ Industrial Design Minor). Without the tireless work of Alex and Josie, these projects would never have been completed this year, for this, they are owed a special thanks!

Project title:
Retooling Bamboo Tectonics

Place of work:
Hauptman’s Bamboo Laboratory at Virginia Tech, Research and Demonstration Facility.

Principal Investigator & Instructor of Record:
Jonas Hauptman

Peer Mentors & Project lead:
Alex Munro, Josie Price, and Mason Milner

Other Major Students Contributors (2020/21):
Gustav Berner,  Keith Hack, Tyler Bruce Jackson, Alex Leininger, Tony Lin, Mason Milner, Tess Reeves, Nathaniel Sedra, Alexandra Sun & RJ Weaver

Co-Principal Investigators:
Katie MacDonald & Kyle Schumann

Computational Design Mentors:
Walter Zesk & Sara Saghafi Moghaddam

Material Testing & Engineering:
Dr. Daniel Hindman

This project has been generously supported by: the American Institute of Architects, Upjohn Research Initiative & the Institute for Creativity Art and Technology.