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Pitt’s Green Expertise

Bamboo Structures in India: A Natural Solution in the Indian Himalayas

Kent Harries, a Pitt civil engineering professor and William Kepler Whiteford Faculty Fellow, works with an engineering group in India to promote, design, and build bamboo structures in the Indian Himalayan regions of Darjeeling and Sikkim. Unlike concrete and masonry, which became fashionable in the 20th century, bamboo is native to the region, resistant to the area’s frequent earthquakes and gentle on the steep, loose-soil hillsides. Harries’ lab is developing comprehensive material standards for bamboo construction.

Sikkim and Darjeeling straddle the planet’s most unstable terrain and modern construction methods pose a great threat to the environment and human safety. Masonry and concrete have to be trucked along rugged, winding roads where untrained contractors and temporary workers cobble together buildings that list on the hillsides and crumble from mudslides and earthquakes. Engineers in this remote part of India also lack access to the equipment needed to perform basic quality control and assurance testing.

In response, the Indian group Sustainable Hill Engineering and Design (SHED)—led by one of Harries’ former graduate students—seeks to repopularize the ikra, a traditional bamboo-frame structure. Harries and students in his lab conduct strength and design tests for bamboo structures and travel to India to help SHED tackle issues ranging from slope stability to clean energy.

A Pitt Chronicle story on this project is available on Pitt’s Web site.


Kent Harries, 412-624-9870 (office),

Pitt News Representative Morgan Kelly: 412-624-4356 (office), 412-897-1400 (cell),

Re-inventing an Industrial Town

Vandergrift PA

In the early 20th century, the town of Vandergrift, Pa., captured the world’s attention as a model industrial community. Built for steelworkers, the town included amenities unseen in other industrial settlements—like green landscapes and electrical streetlamps—and its design won two gold medals at the 1904 World’s Fair. Now, Vandergrift is hoping to impress the world again. With help from the University of Pittsburgh, this town 33 miles east of Pittsburgh is working to become an environmentally sustainable community. Pitt faculty and students are developing new technologies to supply the business district with free, clean-source hydrokinetic power from the town’s river. They’re also helping citizens to evaluate their energy consumption and adapt to “greener” lifestyles.


Lisa Weiland, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, 412-624-9031 (office),

Pitt News Representative Morgan Kelly: 412-624-4356 (office), 412-897-1400 (cell),

Pitt Laboratory Building Built on Brownfield Is Gold LEED-certified

McGowan Institute

The McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine building, the site of groundbreaking issue engineering and bioengineering research, became the first university building in Pennsylvania to reach the gold level for its environmental design. Built on a brownfield that had been the former LTV steel site, the building’s shell had already been built when the decision was made to convert it to green. The structure was then “recycled” to meet the standards of the gold certification. Now housing more than 100 scientists, researchers, and staff, the McGowan laboratory building helped launch the economic revitalization of an historic Pittsburgh neighborhood that had been devastated by the loss of the steel industry.


Park Rankin, University architect, 412-624-9534 (office), 412-849-4363 (cell),

Pitt Associate Vice Chancellor for National Media Relations Maddy Ross, 412-624-4379 (office), 412-298-4972 (cell),