Could Bamboo & Timber Retrofits Spur Growth in the Global South?

The World Architecture Festival "Future Project of the Year" highlights role of bio-based materials in driving the development of future cities.

Thu 07 Dec 23


Global interest in bamboo is surging, with architects looking to engineered bamboo to design future buildings in environments that are not conducive to timber production.

That includes Egyptian architect Islam El Mashtooly, who secured the World Architecture Festival’s “Future Project of the Year” prize last Friday in Singapore for a project that will break ground in 2025.

Known as the Prohabotic Tower, the Cario-based project will retrofit an abandoned water tower, “undoing the mistakes of the past and creating a carbon-negative building.”

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The project will fully retrofit an abandoned water tower and convert it into a carbon-negative residential development. (Photo Credit: World Architecture Festival)

The choice to retrofit an existing building instead of constructing a new one because “the lowest-carbon way to build is simply not to build,” with water towers “amazingly well suited for use as a climate change adaptation system.”

The building will use scaffolding constructed from cross-laminated timber and bamboo grown on the plantation adjacent to the tower’s building site!

Bamboo, the fastest-grown plant on earth, can reach full height and diameter within a few months – far quicker than softwood plantations – with some architects claiming that it could replace green steel as the construction material for the future!

Many believe it can be used similarly to cross-laminated timber (CLT), with Brazil, Malaysia, and China investing heavily in scrimber, cross-laminated timber and bamboo and redial laminated bamboo to service the “Global South.”

Timber is increasingly being embraced by global architects. Bamboo too, with Design and More International winning the WAF Future Project of the Year for "The Probiotic Tower, Egypt" - a project which uses cross laminated bamboo and timber as a structural core product.
The project also secured the WAFX Award – Climate, Energy & Carbon and was one of the most talked about projects at the World Architecture Festival in Singapore. (Photo Credit: World Architecture Festival)

According to Mr Mashtooly, bamboo is the ideal choice for the tower, given the lack of available softwood timbers, with the project using leftover wastewater from neighbourhoods to grow bamboo.

“This positively addresses climate change as an adaptive system for cities, particularly in the developing world,” he said.

With the global demand for timber expected to quadruple over the next 30 years, bamboo is a potential regional solution in countries lacking forest resources. Nonetheless, water irrigation concerns have led to questions over the sustainable credentials of the material.

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Cross-laminated timber and bamboo were used as the “external scaffold” and provided the structural support around the Water Tower’s spine. (Photo Credit: World Architecture Festival)

According to Mr Mashtooly, the project will use treated wastewater from the neighbourhood “to sequester further carbon in its biomass,” with the biomass harvested into further building materials and then processed as biodiesel.

“Our concept is to repurpose the water tower and turn it into a probiotic urban machine,” he said. “The tower’s core is a large algae bioreactor tank that absorbs CO2 from local sources in the host neighbourhood.”

“The Algae Bioreactor not only absorbs carbon from the neighbourhood but also forms a feedstock for a carbon-neutral biofuel for inhabitants.” 

World Architecture Festival Judge Mark Thomson spoke exclusively to Wood Central’s Publisher Jason Ross before travelling to Singapore for the WAF Awards – footage courtesy of @WoodCentral.

According to World Architecture Festival Judge Mark Thomson, bamboo (and timber) is being used in more diverse applications.

Speaking exclusively to the Wood Central Publisher on Monday, Mr Thomson said the language and opportunities around biobased construction materials have changed.

“Initially, we were just looking at CLT (or Cross Laminated Timber) buildings, but now it has diversified into crafted buildings and a whole range of timber being used internally and externally, structurally and non-structurally.”


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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