What if waste did not exist? This sounds like a utopian idea in today’s economy, but waste as we know it is a relatively new concept. Waste is tied to the idea of consumption: commodities are purchased, used, and then discarded. A world of consumers has exploded the amount of waste produced; and produced types of waste that would be unfamiliar to previous generations. Understanding that business-as-usual is not the natural order of things helps generate alternatives. Perhaps, even just redefining the words we use to talk about material flows can also help redefine the infrastructures that produce and move materials.
At the 6th LafargeHolcim Forum for Sustainable Construction, Werner Sobek, Director, Institute for Lightweight Structures & Conceptual Design (ILEK), University of Stuttgart and Founder, Werner Sobek Group, Germany explored this theme as part of the workshop “Changing paradigms: Materials for a world not yet built”. The constantly growing population poses a huge challenge to materials management and building not only in Cairo but around the globe. Werner Sobek substantiated this with impressive figures: The global population is growing by 2.6 people every second. In order to accommodate these people adequately, 400 to 1,300 tons of all sorts of materials would have to be produced per second.
“It is scientifically proven that this will kill the planet,” asserts Werner Sobek (pictured left). Architects, urbanists, engineers, and everyone else involved in the construction industry have a responsibility to save materials wherever possible. Overall, however, this responsibility is being poorly shouldered. “In central European buildings there is 20 to 30 per- cent more material than the code requires,” said Sobek, “because there is no incentive for optimizing.”
Eliminating the idea of waste suggests producing leaner, supplying better, mining the city, crossing loops, and exchanging building components. In short, it summarizes the idea of employing all strategies at once – nose-to-tail production (no waste in the production stream), reuse (circular within one sector), and cradle-to-cradle (looping between sectors, up-cycling and down-cycling) – while also providing a larger vision for all of them.
Strategies to re-materialize construction
As the key input to the Forum, the publication 22 Propositions offers strategies for both the material supply chain and material use in buildings. The propositions aim to “re-materialize” construction by rethinking the building material cycle from extraction to processing, design, transport, installation, maintenance, and removal.
The changes proposed would contribute to a construction industry with a smaller ecological footprint and a shift away from the unsustainable assumption that raw construction uses significant amounts of material. Rethinking materials and material use also has tremendous potential to lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce dependence on resource extraction.
The Materials Book to be published by Ruby Press Berlin in late 2019 will feature the essence of 22 Propositions as well as a selection of additional proposals to re-materialize construction derived from the findings of the Forum.