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Engineering a Better Construction Method

For the third time, SCU is participating in the U.S Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, where university teams design, build, and display energy efficient homes that inspire consumers to build and live more sustainably. And for the third time, Bronco engineers are taking the use of bamboo as a structural material to new, uncharted territory.

From left, David Sippel, Alessi Sia, Alexandra Jabuka-Godwin, and Daniel Tzintzun are getting great testing results from their bamboo gravity system.
Photo: Able Hsu '14

Capitalizing on faculty and student research that introduced solid and open web bamboo I-joists in previous competitions (Santa Clara took third place overall with both), a team of civil engineering seniors, working under advisors Mark Aschheim, professor and department chair, and lecturer Tonya Nilsson, designed a bamboo gravity system to replace traditional engineered wood products. And they are getting great results by using bamboo columns in their natural state, compounding the efficiency of the already highly sustainable material by streamlining the process for manufacturing the joists and prefabricated wall segments.

According to the team, the new bamboo gravity system components are particularly exciting because in addition to functioning structurally as substitutes for conventional timber components, they can be easily substituted physically in established timber construction practice without requiring the trades to master bamboo joinery techniques, eliminating potential resistance to adoption by the building industry.

While a separate Senior Design team works on turning gravity walls into shear walls, this group is busy documenting their testing results in order to have their system approved for use in time for the October competition.

Read more about SCU’s Solar Decathlon entry on the team’s website: