Triple ‘R’ Construction: Seeking the Holy Grail.

27th April 2021

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Triple ‘R’ Construction: Seeking the Holy Grail.

Reduce, Re-use, Recycle we’ve had it drilled into us for years now but we’re still not nailing it. The UK’s consumes over 600 million tonnes of products every year, and it creates over 200 million tonnes of waste annually.  With 1 house worth of materials for every 7 built going to incineration, it comes as no surprise the construction industry is responsible for close to 60% of the UK’s total waste production, that’s a massive 120 million tonnes, (DEFRA; 2018).  Whilst we all need to adopt the triple R message, we also need to play catch up and set in motion standards and practices that will help the industry achieve the Holy Grail of  ‘closed loop material cycle construction’.

Despite the Pandemic and Brexit, construction sector output continues to grow. Whilst this is great for the economy it appears we are still running true to form, putting profits over sustainability. But perhaps we could have it all? Maybe we could offer a choice where sustainability doesn’t fall victim to value engineering?

Maybe it is time for a change of mindset?

The Built Environment comprises of more than just a construction phase, there is maintenance, management and decommissioning. But all too often the later elements are neglected or overlooked.

As design, engineering and construction professionals we need to embrace sustainable development and champion the Circular Economy throughout the life of a building. We need to be creative, incorporating innovative working into our everyday such as “resource mapping” and designing with flexibility and disassembly in mind. Current construction financial models are linear, often viewing buildings as time limited and a negative asset when past their use by date. However, industry innovators are challenging this and are turning convention on its head by viewing buildings parts as greater than the whole.  When buildings become ‘material stores’ for the future, negative assets become positive ones. This concept isn’t new, for many years demolition companies have salvaged high value materials for resale. It’s time we expand this process and put value on the materials we throw away.

Creativity is key.

The project team for Resource Rows Apartments, Copenhagen is an example of such creativity. Harvesting brick panels from
redundant buildings they overcame the notorious challenge of deconstructing brick walls. Using angle grinders to cut 1m2 sections of brick wall from buildings due for demolition, (including the local Carlsberg Breweries), they bypassed the headache of separating bricks and their mortar. These panels which were repurposed and mounted in steel frames to form the buildings’ facade.

‘There’s no such thing as waste, just stuff in the wrong place’- Cat Fletcher

The circular principles revolve around recovery and regeneration. Whether that be, using redundant plywood protection to strengthen a stud wall, to cataloguing products at implementation stage so they can be re-used or simply designing buildings which can more easily be refurbished – it all counts environmentally and financially.

In the simplest of terms we need to consider the materials we specify and allow for flexibility in our designs. We are all familiar with the saying ‘Work Smart, Not Hard’, well,  it’s time we put all we know into practice ‘Save the Planet, Save Money’.

Can we have it all?  A sustainable project at an affordable price?

MacConvilles are committed to better building with a multi-skilled team dedicated to constructing with a conscience. Our Building Surveyors are well equipped for understanding the long term impact of a building, having a depth of knowledge that can critically appraise the performance and best use of materials in use and re use. Our Quantity Surveyors have developed this knowledge identifying where savings can be made from re-using elements of an existing structure or better still potential profits from selling building materials prior to decommissioning.

If you are interested in hearing about past projects where we have implemented sustainable strategies or would like to know how we can support you with managing an upcoming project then please get in contact to speak to a member of our team.

MacConvilles have worked with Duncan Baker Brown, architect, academic, environmental activist and  author of ‘The Re-Use Atlas: a designer’s guide towards a circular economy’ over the past six years. We are currently working together on Streat Hill Farm. Duncan has practised, researched, and taught around issues of sustainable development and closed-looped systems for more than 25 years. He has recently founded BakerBrown an architectural practice and consultancy created to address the huge demands presented by the climate and ecological emergency as well as the challenges of designing in a post-COVID world.


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