Interest in sustainable construction materials is growing, with research and construction being initiated worldwide. Structural applications of indigenous material resources such as bamboo are an integral part of sustainable development. The use of natural materials for construction, however, is limited to cultural-based traditions with little or no standardization. To develop sustainable construction materials in both an engineering and a cultural sense, one must evaluate the traditional building techniques in terms of engineering standards and develop equivalent design methods to assess and improve structural performance.
In early May 2008, a PITT team of undergraduate and graduate students was led by CEE Associate professor, Kent Harries, along with IGERT Fellow and CEE PhD candidate Bhavna Sharma, travelled to the Darjeeling region of northeast India in support of their nascent work on hazard mitigation using bamboo-based residential construction (Sharma et al. 2008). The visit resulted in various research studies, including an undergraduate and master’s thesis (Mitch 2009 and Mitch 2010), as well as a dissertation (Sharma 2010). A new interdisciplinary PITT team, led by Harries and Sharma, was formed in May 2010 and returned to the region to further their collaboration with the local engineers, architects, planners, and community members. Each visit explored the region surrounding Kalimpong, Mungpoo, Darjeeling, and Gangtok, where the team observed the engineering challenges and visited a number of sites with potential for bamboo construction and other broader applications of sustainable engineering design.
Through the visits to the northeast hill region, a number of opportunities were identified and relationships were established that have been leveraged for future service-learning opportunities within MCSI and SSOE, including undergraduate and graduate research. In 2009, three undergraduates participated in the summer IRES program and conducted bamboo research for four weeks in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Additional summer IRES opportunities on bamboo research are anticipated for 2011.
In 2009, a collaborative proposal from students at the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur, India and Bhavna Sharma, was awarded a Silver Mondialogo award. Sponsored by Daimler and UNESCO, the Mondialogo, a global competition, received 931 proposals that addressed the UN Millennium Development goals. The PITT-IIT-Kanpur proposal, Promotion of Bamboo as a cost effective and sustainable structural material, was chosen as one of 30 finalists.