“Safer Than Steel” Bamboo Scaffolding, Now A Dying Art
One of my biggest surprises when visiting Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China in the early 1990’s was the use of bamboo scaffolding in the construction of modern structures of all kinds: homes, businesses, hanging signs over street sidewalks and even skyscrapers.
In fact, the majority of skyscrapers in Hong Kong were built using bamboo scaffolding. In one of the largest building booms in human history, many of the buildings as high as 80 stories and costing tens of millions of dollars, have been or are enveloped in bamboo rather than steel as we normally see in New York City or London. Naturally, those who have experience with bamboo scaffolding and those who are purveyors and it believe that in some cases, such as during typhoons, bamboo is safer than steel.
Of course, in a rapidly industrializing country, cost is a major factor and the fact that bamboo is just one tenth the cost of steel is a driving factor.
Building bamboo scaffolding for any building requires brute strength, experience, and skill in order to build a web that produces platforms capable of hold large numbers of construction workers. Bamboo scaffolding workers are called “spiders” as they are known for their amazing climbing ability and gravity defying feats.
In fact, Hong Kong has over 1,700 registered bamboo scaffolders in a city that has seen a boom in the construction of tall buildings over the past several decades. One building requires thousands of bamboo rods, each from 18 to 22 feet (7m – 9m) long, and in Hong Kong as many as 5 million pieces of bamboo are used each year.
The amount of bamboo available for scaffolding is beginning to dwindle as is the number of workers experienced in the craft. At a maximum daily wage of $100, relatively wealthy Hong Kong provides other better paying alternatives for its young workers.
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