Grow strong and live beautifully: Colombian bamboo structures

While the new group of senior students are getting up to speed with their senior theses, we look back in this weeks blog post on the work of Russell and Lu Lu in Colombia.

In March 2016 Russell Archer (’16) and Lu Lu (‘16) traveled to the city of Cali, Colombia and the coffee region (Spanish: Eje Cafetero) north of Cali where they visited a variety of structures made of south American bamboo species Guadua angustifolia, known as the “vegetable steel” for its impressive strength. These structures range from traditional vernacular houses, roofs and bridges designed by Simón Vélez, to classrooms designed by Andres Bappler. Russell and Lu were inspired by both the abundance and the level of sophistication found in these bamboo buildings.

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Left Image: Russell (right) and Lu (left) standing in front of a huge bamboo forest near a school building construction site at UTP campus in Pereira, Colombia. Right Image: A vernacular bamboo chair in a local bar.

Visiting Cali, Colombia and the surrounding regions showed us how bamboo is deeply ingrained as a part of daily life in Colombia, from chairs and fences to larger scale bridges and buildings. Much of bamboo design is driven by designer’s and builder’s knowledge of the material properties. This knowledge has expanded over generations and has added to the scale of the structures that can now be achieved. At the Universidad Technolόgica de Pereira (UTP), an arch bridge designed by Simón Vélez ( traverses a roadway connecting two parts of the campus. He also designed the CARDER regional office. These bamboo structures are representative of emerging efforts to locally enhance the perception of bamboo as a building material. The efficient joinery techniques that incorporate mortar inserted into the poles and steel bolts, are indicative of the sophistication involved in the bamboo design.

3 View looking across the bridge deck at the Universidad Technolόgica de Pereira by Simón Vélez. The bamboo poles are covered with dark coating that protect them from sun and rain.

4 Russell (left) discussing the structural system of the arch bridge with DAGMA architect Daniel (right)


Interior Corporaciόn Autόnoma Regional de Risaralda(CARDER) where inclined bamboo poles support the roof Exterior of Corporaciόn Autόnoma Regional de Risaralda (CARDER) with structural timber and bamboo poles

On the edge of the city of Cali, Montebello Colegio de Las Aguas, a school designed by Andres Bappler ( and made out of bamboo, provides education to over 200 children living in this isolated town. Without the school, children would be forced to travel long distances over mountainous, narrow, roads for access to education. Transporting bamboo to Montebello was feasible given the material’s lightness. The classrooms go as high as three stories and feature bamboo poles utilized in very different functions, including beams and cantilevers, columns, trusses and ties.
7Montebello Colegio de Las Aguas (Three story main building) by Escuela para la Vida featuring concrete foundation supporting series of bamboo columns and bamboo pole roof supporting esterilla (split flat bamboo) and asphalt shingles.

8Montebello Colegio de Las Aguas (Larger bamboo hypar canopy along the walkway

9Montebello Colegio de Las Aguas (Walkway sheltered by various bamboo canopy roofs

10Montebello Colegio de Las Aguas (Open-air class room where the roof is comprised of multiple bamboo truss systems

On the highway connecting Armenia and Pereira is Peaje las pavas Autopistas del Café, we were astonished by this  toll booth structure designed by Simón Hosie (Washington Post Report). It is comprised of a series of tensioned rods and groups of connected bamboo pole columns, sitting on concrete piers.

11View of the steel tension tie and bamboo pole system in the canopy

12.pngView of the horizontal bracing in the toll booth

13As one looks up the concrete leg, the joints appear to be pinned and the poles change angles as one nears the canopy roof.

14Bamboo-steel joint connects four bamboo poles to the concrete leg

Authors: Russell Archer, Lu Lu

Photo Credits: Russell Archer, Lu Lu


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