Design to avoid waste is design for quality.

10Dec15

ARCHITECTS SHOULD PLAN FOR LESS WASTE

“ALL ARCHITECTURE IS WASTE IN TRANSIT”

What does that mean?  Basically that every building currently standing – or planned for future development – is already waiting in line for its place at the landfill.  That’s not entirely accurate (some notable buildings of antiquity have prevailed and will probably continue to last).  But, generally speaking it is true of every suburban house, rural outbuilding and skyscraper.

Note: this concept is a quote from a 2002 lecture by Cambridge professor of Engineering for Sustainable Development, Peter Guthrie).

HOW CAN WE AVOID THE WASTE OF OUR BUILDINGS?

Design to avoid waste is, in many cases, simply design for quality.  Good quality buildings, finishes and furniture last.  In particular, focusing our attention on “good bones;” beautiful, long lasting structures rather than artistic decorative elements, increases the odds that our designs will last.  People update and adapt their lives while keeping certain elements in place.

Living spaces, bedrooms and other areas of the house are far more likely to stand the test of time – if they are sturdy and well designed.  On the other hand, it would be silly to assume that the design of kitchens and bathrooms that moss oversees this year will be in style and up to modern standards for appliances and materials 10, 25 or 50 years from now.

DESIGNING FOR (AND WITH) DECONSTRUCTION 

So a question we should ask ourselves is … how can we design with the long term future in mind.  Can we select finishes, and even structure that is not only less likely to get quickly dated but can be easily removed and re-purposed, after the fact.  

In many ways moss already does this every day – our preference for using real materials makes for reusable for construction.  We prefer solid wood to veneers, stone countertops to laminates and exposed concrete floors to carpet.  All of those preferences have the side benefit of being potentially disassembled and reused later rather than being automatically destined for the dumpster.  

What moss and other designers could give a lot more more thought to, is designing for ways attach materials in a removable way.  Here are a few examples: screw on metal finish panels as opposed to tile cemented so a surface; screws in general vs nails;  no glue.  Using whole slab material  for counter tops means that it can be cut down to size to fit a second or third application.

This idea of dis-assembly or deconstruction can even be applied to structure.  A timber frame and brick building can potentially be broken down into its component pieces again.  A 2×4 or “stick frame” one likely can’t.  Building with more durable discrete “elements” increases the odds that those components can stay out of the trash, long term.

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