The potential benefits of bamboo as a rapidly-renewable, low-carbon, sustainable product material are well established, yet bamboo remains underutilized globally due to its irregularity, antiquated construction techniques, and deeply-rooted aesthetic stigmas in western culture. Tooling Bamboo Growth seeks to refine and implement an affordable, intelligent, digitally-enhanced system for the growing of structural bamboo into digitally defined shapes from a product to an architectural scale. The project team will develop a growing process using (1) a computationally-controlled 4-axis apparatus that can move to change the direction of bamboo growth and (2) visual, noninvasive evaluation feedback through real-time 3D scanning and photographic analysis. Building on previous research and development, these discrete technologies will be synthesized into an intelligent parametric system enabling implementation into real-world construction. The fidelity of bamboo as a natural material will be considered and manipulated throughout the process, seeking to transition from current perceptions of bamboo as a kitsch and primitive vernacular to a digitally customizable material for contemporary manufacturing and products.

This project will realize a digitally-controlled system for the growing of customizable shapes of structural bamboo, initially using a readily-available plant surrogate with a faster growing cycle that will allow for iterative rapid testing and growing of small scale parts. The project will demonstrate how robotic fabrication can contribute to innovation in sustainable manufacturing methods and products development with a novel growing technology that harnesses real-time data and feedback systems to enhance the customization and contemporary application of structural bamboo. We will produce a cohesive system of firmware, software, hardware, and user interface.

The structural capabilities of bamboo poles are similar to steel pipes but bamboo construction techniques remain rudimentary, limiting its application in the contemporary age of customization. This project aims to change how bamboo is grown and thus how it can be applied, creating an intelligent feedback system to analyze real-time growth, adjusting throughout the growth process to meet desired shape outputs. The project’s 4-axis CNC machine will contain 3D scanning so that the machine can parametrically adjust growth to match an idealized design to the material’s actual conditions.

Tooling Bamboo Growth seeks to advance both environmental and design agendas through the creation of a novel technology for growing customized shapes of bamboo pole. This is a transdisciplinary endeavor, bringing together expertise from industrial design, architecture, engineering, computer science, and, forestry & horticulture (an underrepresented area in ICAT research). Previous research by team members has involved ground-up development of specialty fabrication systems including 3- and 4-axis CNC routing machines, 3D-scanning, and sensing systems. Facets of past research will inform the development of this project, with each of the team members spearheading concurrent development in three areas: (1) physical apparatus; (2) digital modeling, scanning, and analysis; and (3) scientific growing principles and techniques.

Tooling Bamboo Growth will engage student from the fields of biomaterials, horticulture, engineering, architecture, industrial design, computer science and construction. In addition, we plan to bring this work into the educational design studio for both industrial design and architecture students, asking students to engage with the possibilities presented by this novel technology.