Living Root Bridges

Living Root Bridges, in North-East India, are functional structures grown from the aerial roots of the Indian Rubber Fig (ficus elastica). The Khasi and Jaintia people of southern Meghalaya have developed a variety of techniques to utilise the fig’s growth phases. The resulting bridges link homes, fields, villages, and markets. This accordance between the aims of construction and natural growth phenomena provides important insight into successful design with living material.

Design with botanical structures requires understanding at a range of scales: the production of tension wood cells during an early phase of growth; the morphological adaptations of individual roots; the inosculation and branching of separate roots, and the possible growth density of any given species must all be seen as parameters for a design system.

Collaborations on the Living Root Bridges research project are with the Plant Biomechanics Group at University of Freiburg, the Department for biotechnology and bioinformatics, North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong, and the Institute for Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) at University of Stuttgart. The focus of the current research project is understanding the life-cycle of Living Root Bridges and key structural characteristics; from tree planting, through a temporary formwork and growth of structurally integral members, to decay and regeneration. The project aims to make vital steps in maintenance and repair of the Living Root Bridges, application of the technique elsewhere, and biomimetic structures at a range of scales.