Michael McDonough | Architect

RISD Bamboo Initiative

Bamboo Research Initiative
Bamboo Research Initiative, May 2000
RISD industrial design students, critics Bruce Sterling, Michael McDonough and Professor Robert O'Neal with hyper-scaled bamboo constructions

Bamboo, one of nature’s miracle plants, is destined to be an increasingly important part of sustainable technologies strategies in the twenty-first century. A primitive grass comprising over 1200 species globally, it grows in Asia, Europe, India, Australia, and the Americas, flourishing both in subtropical heat of 120º F and in northern winter cold of -20º F. Certain species mature at a few inches in height, while others mature at one hundred and eighty feet. Growing as much as a meter per day, bamboo is used to stabilize and remediate eroded and environmentally degraded landscapes. An atmospheric oxygen pump, bamboo produces 35% more oxygen than deciduous trees.

Startlingly beautiful, bamboo is stronger than steel in tension, stronger than concrete in compression, and more stable than red oak. An integral part of human culture and the world’s economy for millennia, it has provided raw material for thousands of products, including food, beverages, cloth, paper, lumber, and medicines.

As bamboo research continues into the twenty-first century, new engineered applications include lumber, veneer, strand- and particle-boards, plywood and other laminates, and the emergent technologies of high-strength bio-composites.

Michael McDonough designed the world’s first commercial collection of engineered bamboo furniture in 1997, and the world’s first tensegrity principle bamboo bridge in 2000. He continues to work with the material in furniture, object, and architecture applications. In cooperation with the Environmental Bamboo Foundation (Bali, Indonesia), he co-founded the Bamboo Research Initiative at Rhode Island School of Design, and teaches bamboo design seminars at architecture and design schools internationally.