All photos by Scott Ramsey
One of the key features of the newly transformed Puku Ridge lodge, located in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, is the use of bamboo for the interior flooring and exterior decking of the lodge and accommodation units, writes Leon Louw.
Global company Luxury Frontiers recently collaborated with Puku Ridge’s new owner Chichele Safaris and operator Chiawa Safaris to restore this well-known camp, which had deteriorated beyond repair after 15 years of operating in particularly harsh external conditions. Luxury Frontiers designs and builds luxury resorts and tented projects in remote regions to enhance visitors’ travel experience. The architecture at Puku Ridge aimed to incorporate the original thatch roofs and canvas walls in the final design. However, to guarantee longevity, materials were carefully selected to withstand the elements.
According to Graeme Labe, principal and managing director at Luxury Frontiers, the company selected bamboo flooring and decking for environmental and sustainability reasons. “The bamboo was one of the key cornerstones of this project. The product gave us the look and feel that we were trying to achieve,” says Labe.
In keeping with their design philosophy of durability with sustainability, Luxury Frontiers specified MOSO Bamboo UltraDensity flooring for the interior floors, and MOSO Bamboo X-treme for the exterior decking of the lodge and accommodation units.
According to Labe, construction at Puku Ridge started in October 2018 when the old lodge was demolished, and the new lodge opened its doors in November 2019. Labe says that the remoteness of the site presented several challenges in terms of logistics. Normally, in such remote regions, it is also a challenge to find skilled labour. However, utilising natural materials like timber and bamboo was a benefit as local villagers do have some experience working with wood and thatch. “Despite the challenges, the lodge was completed within 14 months,” says Labe.
Apart from the MOSO bamboo used for the flooring, other timber material used in the construction included treated structural pine and gumtree poles for the actual structures.
The choice of bamboo as a building material is interesting, but not unique. Bamboo has been used to build houses for decades in many parts of the world. Besides its durability and longevity, it works wonders for the aesthetics at nature-based lodges like Puku Ridge. Andy Paige, Managing Director of MOSO Africa, explains that bamboo is a grass of which there are about 1 500 different species worldwide.
“Many of these are giant species, with stems or culms growing to diameters of 50-120mm. Strips cut from the culms of these giant bamboo plants can be engineered (including lamination, compression and thermal treatment) to produce beams, panels and boards which look and feel very similar to traditional timber products,” says Paige.
In fact, bamboo and timber have a similar chemical composition (cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin), but generally the individual fibre bundles in the bamboo strips are longer and have a higher tensile and bending strength than similar fibre bundles in timber, so in many cases the mechanical properties of engineered bamboo products exceed the mechanical properties of comparable timber products.
Human beings have been using timber for thousands of years, therefore we have a lot of knowledge about timber, its properties and uses. In comparison the development of engineered bamboo products is relatively in its infancy, with the industry really only starting to develop little more than 20 years ago. Initially the main bamboo products manufactured were panels, boards and flooring for interior use made by laminating and pressing machined bamboo strips together, and then further laminating layers of the resulting thin bamboo sheets.
As in all fields, the technology around engineered bamboo products is rapidly progressing, and with processes such as thermal and chemical treatment, and high-pressure compression, companies like MOSO are now producing advanced bamboo products like flooring for very high impact, high traffic public areas, and decking and cladding for exterior use that are much harder, more stable, durable and even have better fire ratings than the tropical hardwood timbers that have traditionally been used in these applications.
“Regarding the use of engineered bamboo materials as structural components, there is still a lot of testing and investigation that has to be undertaken before bamboo beams and panels can be certified for full structural application in the existing timber classes and categories. This looks to be a very interesting field, with bamboo having certain distinct ecological and mechanical advantages over comparable timber products. Some companies are already incorporating bamboo layers in multi-ply cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels for use in the construction industry,” says Paige.
The most important attribute of bamboo is its sustainability, arising from the rapid growth rate of bamboo plants. In fact, bamboo holds the world record for vertical growth, and has been observed to grow almost a metre a day. The MOSO bamboo species grows to about 20m tall, and the stems reach this height in less than a year.
Thereafter they are left to mature and harden for about another four years before they can be harvested for processing. In the bamboo plantations the stems are marked so that the age of each stem is known, and the mature (four to five-year-old) stems can be harvested every year. Like other types of grass species, each bamboo plant is made up of very many stems, and the removal or harvesting of the older stems does not kill the plant. In fact, the harvesting of the older stems allows more light into the bamboo forest and stimulates the growth of the newer stems. This enables a completely sustainable annual harvest of 20-25% of the bamboo forest.
The rapid growth rate of bamboo leads to a very high carbon dioxide uptake by the bamboo plants, and bamboo forests absorb or sequestrate more CO2 per hectare per annum than even the most dense tropical rainforests. So in fact the use of engineered bamboo products as a substitute or alternative to tropical hardwood timber has a double positive impact on the environment and global CO2 balance – it reduces the demand for tropical timber and can thus help to decrease the rate of tropical deforestation, and will also promote the cultivation of new bamboo forests (which can be done very successfully on degraded land), resulting in higher CO2 absorption.
The rapid growth rate and short harvesting cycle of bamboo (four to five years) also means that the annual yield of ‘timber-like’ products from bamboo forests (m3 per hectare per year) is significantly higher than the yield from comparable (sustainable) hardwood forests. And the yield from natural timber forests is even lower than the yield from sustainable timber plantations, so the comparison is even more extreme. Paige says that the vast majority of engineered bamboo products used worldwide are made in China, from the MOSO species, but with advances in processing technology it is likely that many other bamboo species can be used to produce engineered bamboo products. “Thus, the potential supply and yield of bamboo as a construction, structural and décor material worldwide could be many times that of timber, with production facilities in many regions of the world,” he says.
MOSO in a nutshell
MOSO International (MOSO) was established in 1997 in The Netherlands and has grown to become the world leader in the supply of engineered bamboo products. MOSO products are independently tested and certified to the applicable European standards. MOSO supplies engineered bamboo products in a large number of formats and profiles for a range of applications including:
About Luxury Frontiers
Luxury Frontiers turns locations of remote beauty and wilderness into luxurious and experiential destinations. Often aiming to craft the seemingly impossible, Luxury Frontiers contextually designs and develops upmarket tented camps, treetop suites, and light-on-earth building concepts, constantly pushing the envelope of the hospitality frontier without sacrificing comfort, style, or a sense of place.