Material could be used for flooring, kitchens and bathrooms, a reception desk, bench and even bespoke furniture
Construction and demolition generate about 32% of UK landfill according to the Technology Strategy Board, which puts architects under increasing pressure to design out waste and examine options for materials reuse.
An interesting recent experiment saw London-based Apt Architects team up with Mallorcan-based tile manufacturer Huguet to produce terrazzo-inspired material made from reused timber, metal and brick.
Spain was once home to a large terrazzo manufacturing industry which experienced a slow decline as the product went out of fashion leaving Huguet as one of the only surviving producers.
Apt was keen to work with the firm, due to its reputation for forward thinking experimentation, and discussions on potential applications soon turned to the global problem of waste.
Mark Williams-Jones, partner at Apt, told RIBAJ: ‘It became a provocation from us in response to the wider discussion around trying to reduce construction waste through things like off-site manufacture and maximise the reuse of existing buildings to avoid demolition. We liked the narrative that we could capture some of the previous life of a building if the construction materials came from a refurb, fossilize it and make it part of the new building or fit-out.’
Three different types of terrazzo were produced in pastel colours that were combined to create a bench as an example of a potential application. Material fragments were incorporated in the traditional manufacturing process which involves laying pieces of marble or stone in cement, then grinding and polishing it back.
One advantage of terrazzo is its flexibility to include a high density of aggregate, and therefore more reused material. However, tests showed that not all construction waste was suitable, said Williams-Jones: ‘We were really keen to include gypsum plasterboard in the pink terrazzo because refurb projects or strip outs produce large quantities that are often treated as hazardous waste and must be disposed of separately. However, the plasterboard dissolved in the cement slurry and made the material too soft. Not all timber off cuts would bond adequately with the cement and pieces fell out.’
Apt didn’t calculate the environmental impacts of the terrazzo, partly because shipping it from Spain to the UK pushed up the CO2 emissions, but it now plans to take the experiment a stage further and investigate the feasibility of using a local producer on a live project. Other potential applications mooted include a reception desk, a floor finish, a bathroom or kitchen top, or bespoke furniture pieces.
‘As designers, we should be thinking about the materials we specify and what happens when they reach the end of their lifespan,’ said Williams-Jones. ‘Construction involves tearing things down, or stripping things out, and while we can't totally avoid waste, we can try to reuse more of it. There needs to be an industry-wide shift towards reuse and the circular economy,’ he concludes.