Design Out Waste

Waste is a concept that has no place in the systems of the natural world. It’s a human idea that relies upon the illusion that something can be thrown away, when of course, there is no “away”, only a finite and inextricably interconnected planet shared by billions of living creatures. Its short-sightedness is foolhardy, selfish and un-neighbourly to the places and people that receive this discarded material. Can you image if instead of taking your bin bags out for the council to collect, you yourself carried them to a field or wood, dug a hole and buried them there? Like many of the under-evolved aspects of our society, we wouldn’t do them ourselves but we tacitly sanction them being done for us.

The current industries which follow the paradigm of “take, make, use and dispose” are coming to an end and new circular economies are emerging. Architecture has a vital role to play in this transition because buildings require such a significant amount of material to create them and they can lead to vast amounts of waste. In the UK, DEFRA estimates that 59% of total UK waste comes from the construction industry, four times more than domestic waste. As architects we feel a responsibility and opportunity to radically change this situation.

We look to renewable sources – trees and plants – to find the majority of our building materials and we design with a future in mind where demolition, that insane image of a wrecking ball swinging into a building, will be a thing of the past. We actively source reclaimed and recycled materials, sometimes where nobody else saw a potential use for a “waste” product. We deeply value all the existing materials and conditions on our project sites and look for ways to weave the old into the new.

We design with future deconstruction in mind so that when needs change, buildings do not have to be consigned to a scrap heap. Deconstruction can allow a building to be more easily adapted. It can allow parts of it to be taken away and re-used elsewhere. It could even allow a whole building to move with its owner to a new location as used to happen with timber framed farmhouses of the past. Lastly, design for deconstruction can allow buildings to be recycled or composted in a future where landfill and incineration are no longer tolerated. Buildings designed this way can be seen as material banks where their component parts retain their value, awaiting future uses.

Reclaimed bricks and timber diverted from waste and used in a gabion wall in Reuse Flat.

Reclaimed bricks and timber diverted from waste and used in a gabion wall in Reuse Flat.

An old floor is reprocessed on site to create a wall lining in Reuse Flat.

An old floor is reprocessed on site to create a wall lining in Reuse Flat.