High rise salvage

Researchers aim to recycle rather than demolish towers

Could the example of BBM's Waste House offer answers for salvaging material from other building types?
Could the example of BBM's Waste House offer answers for salvaging material from other building types?

A slew of mid-to-late 20th century high rise buildings slated for demolition or refurbishment are the target of a £1million+ joint-EU research bid exploring options for materials salvage and reuse.

Led by four institutions, the team plans to develop a handbook to help building owners that are considering the refurbishment or demolition of tower blocks to identify products suitable for reuse, remanufacture, or recycling. It has applied for £1.174 million of funding under the ERA-NET Cofund Smart Urban Futures, part of the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme. The handbook will concentrate on tall buildings erected between the 1950s and 1980s in the UK, Holland and Belgium, and will provide a step-by-step guide to dismantling towers and the subsequent reusing or selling on of items. 

The team is headed up by the University of Brighton, University of Brussels, Technical University Delft, and the Belgium Building Research Institute. 

Input would come from architect BBM Sustainable Design, designer of the Waste House in Brighton; Brussels-based practice Rotor; and consultant Jonathan Essex, former sustainable construction manager at Bioregional, which worked on the sustainability framework underpinning London’s bid for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The handbook would be put together by Rotor, a specialist in the disassembly and resale of architectural and construction material intended for demolition, and aim to identify all possible material flow opportunities and provide a methodology for dismantling and reassembling components and materials. It would cover products such as light fittings, ceiling tiles, furniture and partitioning systems – anything other than the building shell and core.

Duncan Baker-Brown, director of BBM Sustainable Design and senior lecturer at the University of Brighton, said: 'Some people think the only way forward for these buildings is to demolish them because they are poorly ventilated and insulated etc. We will prove that they can be salvaged at both a micro and a macro scale. If you have the mindset to salvage it's a amazing what you can do.'

Scope of the overall research would vary depending on the country.

Brighton  University also plans to work in collaboration with a structural engineer and an environmental engineer to identify opportunities to avoid demolition. 'We will demonstrate that knocking down concrete framed towers and replacing them with a modern equivalent is highly unsustainable when the original structure could be easily retained and upgraded with better insulation, ventilation, or an intelligent facade,' said Baker-Brown.

The Dutch researchers plan to examine the cultural heritage of high rise buildings from the period and the social impact on communities of demolishing them based on current perceptions that they are ugly or associated with crime etc.

'Aside from the unsustainability of demolition and the lost of value of materials inside, there is the lost value of communities and social cultural heritage to consider,' said Baker-Brown. The team expects hear if its bid is successful in May.