11 recommended reads on using timber and bamboo
Date published

15 January 2021

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11 recommended reads on using timber and bamboo

Date published

15 January 2021

James Norman and David Trujillo share their favourite guidance documents on timber and bamboo.

Our clients are becoming more aware of the need for low-carbon designs. This means that there will be an increasing focus on the use of biogenic (natural) materials within structural engineering.

This suggested reading list is a must for any engineer who wants to know more about timber and bamboo. James has also put together a suggested reading list on the use of earth and straw.

Timber as structural material

Timber, if sourced from a well-managed (certified) forest, is a sustainable alternative to the use of steel and concrete framed buildings. Timber is sustainable because:
  • It is renewable
  • It has a lower reliance on fossil fuels for production
  • It can sequester carbon if designed well
While most timber designs can be adapted from steel and concrete solutions, the optimum solutions often come from starting with the assumption that the building will be timber.

As a growing selection of timber products become available, the different structural solutions on offer continue to grow. Timber is increasingly being considered in hybrid design along with steel.

The references below are by no means exhaustive but they are useful. Engineers who have designed out of steel or concrete and are looking to diversify the material options they have available will find them particularly helpful.

Recommended reading on timber


Norman, J. and Thomson, A. (2020) Designing timber structures: an introduction, TRADA.

This book is aimed at students and graduates but is a useful reference for anyone doing timber design for the first time. It includes hundreds of references to other documents including a four page summary to further resources. It covers sawn timber, glulam and CLT and includes an introduction on vibration.

Manual for the design 
of timber building structures to Eurocode 5 (2020), ISTRUCTE/TRADA.

This book is a great resource for the experienced timber engineer and covers a huge variety of topics. It has recently been updated to match the latest Eurocodes. The section on connector capacities is particularly invaluable.

Norman J. (2018), Structural timber elements: a pre-scheme design guide, TRADA, second edition.

This book is aimed at the very earliest stages of timber design and helps designers select the right types of timber solutions and alerts them to the design challenges ahead.

Porteous, J. and Kermani, A. (2013), Structural timber design to Eurocode 5, Wiley-Blackwell.

This is a highly regarded textbook on timber engineering. It is a useful reference for those looking to dig deeper into the subject. It will also help those who want to reference the latest codes of practice. Available as an elibrary loan to IStructE members.

Blass, H.J. (1995), ‘Timber Engineering Step 2: Design: details and structural systems, Centrum Hout.

Finally, the ‘Step 1 and 2’ books have long been out of print but remain the most in-depth resource on the fundamentals of timber design. They include incredibly thorough explanations of connector behaviour. Print copy at HQ. Available for loan by post or in person to IStructE members.

Bamboo as structural material

Bamboo is not currently widely used in the UK, but innovative examples of using this material are appearing elsewhere. It is an interesting alternative to timber.

Timber takes roughly 50 years (and up, depending on species) to reach maturity. Structural bamboo can be grown in less than a decade, and regularly harvested thereafter.

There is currently little detailed guidance in the English language, but that is changing. New design guides and codes are planned for publication soon.

Recommended reading on bamboo


Kaminski et al (2016-2017) Structural Use of Bamboo – technical series in The Structural Engineer.

This series is possibly the only resource in the English language that presents the process of designing structural elements using a limit state approach. The fifth item in the series, connections, has not been published. There is an errata that should be noted.

Janssen, J (1995) Building with bamboo – A handbook. Practical Action.

This is a simple little manual that presents some basic ideas of how to build some very simple structures out of bamboo. It is rather dated, and a revision is due soon.

Janssen, J (2000) Designing and building with bamboo. INBAR.

This was at the time a quite a comprehensive book. Over the last two decades much has progressed, but it is still a good starting point for those starting to learn about bamboo. It has the advantage that it is free.

Kaminski, S., Lawrence, A. and Trujillo, D. (2016) Design guide for engineered bahareque housing. INBAR.

Engineered bahareque is arguably the most useful way to build housing with bamboo. The book provides plenty of guidance, though no calculations. Very comprehensive if you are seeking to build bamboo housing. It is also freely available.

BS ISO 19624 Bamboo structures — Grading of bamboo culms — Basic principles and procedures

There are now two British Standards for bamboo, this one and BS ISO 22157. Obviously, neither is particularly useful for designing structures, but for those intent in getting involved in research they are a useful starting point.

Harries, K. and Sharma, B. (2019) Nonconventional and vernacular construction materials. Elsevier.

This book contains four chapters on bamboo. One of these, presents in English much of the content of the Colombian design code for bamboo, which is arguably the most useful extant design code in the world. The content is very much up to date.

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