The bamboo ‘spiders’ keeping a big city green

Is it wrong to build cities? In Hong Kong, a traditional construction method may point to the future of building work.

A man grips a bamboo pole with his legs. It wobbles as he inches forward. He grabs another one and ties them together, building a path for himself as he goes, like a spider spins a web. All while dizzyingly high up in the air.

In Hong Kong, scaffolding made of bamboo is still very popular. The people who build these bamboo structures are nicknamed spiders. Their latticed handiwork is all over the city.

While some might think of bamboo as food eaten by pandas, it has been used for buildings in Asia for centuries.

The Great Wall of China was built using bamboo scaffolds. This traditional method is still popular in Hong Kong, partly because it is half the price of metal poles.

But it is also becoming clear that this old-school method is more sustainable. Bamboo grass absorbs a lot of carbon dioxide, for example. Steel does not. Bamboo might also be useful in replacing steel “rebars” (the rods used to support concrete in buildings).

Having bendy supports could make houses more earthquake-proof.

The traditional methods of construction might be coming back. But it is hard and dangerous work for the spiders themselves, who have to train for a long time to be able to spin their webs.

Mo Jia Yu, a student at the city’s Construction Industry Council, and trainee spider says “you have to have a daring heart”.