sustainability in construction

Buildings are being designed for reuse to cut emissions by 88%, Is this the next big thing?

The motivation for building design in years gone by has always been longevity. However, now we are beginning to see a shift whereby buildings that can be taken apart and the materials reused seems much more aligned with the environmental priorities of construction. Given that a third of our waste comes from buildings is this type of design going to be a game changer going forward?

A new approach to construction

The building in question is the Curtin University building at the Legacy Living Lab in Fremantle, USA. It has been designed as a modular, circular economy building that reduces waste from the construction process and also minimises emissions. So, what went into creating it and is it the next big thing?

  • Natural biogeochemical cycles. These are basically the cycles of nature that create little or no waste – everything gets reused into a new resource. This, unfortunately, is not the approach that has been taken by humans in the past, which has been much more along the lines of “take, make, dispose.” It’s not just about materials such as single use plastics but also the construction sector too. The construction sector is responsible for around a third of waste and consumes 50% of minerals, plus it’s a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Switching to a reuse approach. Recycling has been labelled as the environmental solution since the 1990s. However, the reality is that it’s not always that effective – for example, just 10% of plastics get recycled. And when it comes to something like building materials recycling isn’t always effective and down-cycling – which is less useful – tends to happen instead. Even products like timber can’t actually be recycled but end up being remanufactured into products that often have a lower economic value and aren’t as good quality. Reuse is the way forward, starting with opting for reusable materials at the planning stage.
  • The option to disassemble – in practice. The Legacy Living Lab building has been created on a reuse principle and can be disassembled or deconstructed and moved anywhere to be reused within a matter of weeks. These built-in reuse practices can save 18 tonnes of construction materials from being disposed of in the usual way, generating an 88% drop in greenhouse gas emissions.
    It’s not rocket science. The reuse approach of the Legacy Living Lab is pretty simple and lies mostly in the materials choices – reused steel frames, steel foundations rather than concrete and internal wall cladding that can be taken apart and reassembled. The whole building can then be taken apart in eight distinct modules.
  • A new market for reusable building materials. Modular buildings that can be easily disassembled open up great potential for a new market for reusable building materials. This will allow building materials to stay in the reuse loop without being reliant on recycling to reduce waste.

The Legacy Living Lab building is a prime example of the way that construction is evolving to take into account more eco considerations and the benefits of reuse where the environment is concerned.

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