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‘The Green Steel of the 21st Century’

About four stories up a gleaming tower block in downtown Hong Kong, a shirtless figure clambers horizontally across the building’s facade, fastens a knot and then leaps down a level like a real-life Spider-Man.

But rather than relying on hyper-elastic webs to transport himself, the young man has his own kind of miracle material: bamboo. Vast lattices of it cover the building and countless others across the bustling Asian metropolis.

“I think that bamboo may be the future,” says Wallace Chang, a professor in the University of Hong Kong’s Department of Architecture. “From a material point of view, bamboo is very sustainable. It’s relatively cheap. It’s a phenomenon.”

Throughout Chinese history, bamboo has been widely used in construction as well as everything from basket weaving to concocting sugary juice, according to Chang, who wrote Bamboo Theatre, a book tracing the culture of Hong Kong’s bamboo opera, including the spectator stands made of bamboo and the masters producing them.