The Ove Arup Foundation has agreed to provide a grant towards the research of a highly unusual and striking method of engineering. The Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya are unique, woven as they are from the aerial roots of the Indian Rubber Tree (ficus elastica).
Wilfrid Middleton is set to visit Meghalaya to study the bridges, which grow over years to produce spans of remarkable strength able to withstand floods, earthquakes, and use as public highways.
The living bridges provide a chance for great insight into the strength mechanisms of trees, growth for resilience, and engineering for extreme loading. As a symbiosis between human and natural engineering, they provide a vital piece of the puzzle of biomimetics, a crucial tool in 21st century engineering.
Middleton aims to talk to builders, users, owners and maintainers about the design process and their understanding of the growth mechanisms of ficus elastica to provide the basis for engineering research. The work will bring together engineers, architects, botanists, local builders, environmentalists, and explorers.
The project will have five research outputs:
- The first coherent repository of knowledge in the field.
- An understanding of the position the bridges hold in their ecosystems and society.
- Documentation of the building process, to compare with modern techniques, combining trussed arches with cable-stays.
- Through measurements, a conclusion about the bridge structural systems and the force regimes.
- We will learn a great deal about earthquake and flood resistance, humidity resistance, optimisation through growth, and self-repair.