Iteration the Second

September 4, 2007

Here’s a more recent and slightly abridged version of the first assignment. I’m not planning to work it over any more until I find out which thesis prof I have and what their methods are likely to be. In the mean time this is still my chance to make research hay while the sun shines.
Hypothesis
The building industry is responsible for 35 percent of the waste generated in America each year.
It is still possible to startle friends outside the world of architecture with this statistic, but to design students and professionals it is old hat – so often dinned in our ears that it fails to shock. It has become a byword, a fact. It ought not, however, to be taken for granted.
Construction and Demolition waste in America totaled an estimated 136 million tons in 1996, as compared with 133 million tons of landfill in Municipal Solid Waste in 2005. But of that MSW stream, a further 97 million were diverted to recycling and composting solutions and another 33 were burned for energy harvesting. In the public sector waste management has improved dramatically over the last 30 years; the situation is not perfect, but there is a sense of progress and a common goal that is actively being approached.
So far the building industry has not seriously tapped the potential of waste reduction, although industry in general has proved that great advances in sustainability are possible. The automotive industry has had its first zero waste auto plant up and running for over a year, turning out Subaru’s by the thousand in central Indiana while generating only a bi weekly dumpster of office trash. In America we recycle roughly 25% of our building waste (mostly large scale debris ground into fill for further construction projects) while in Germany and Belgium more than half of construction waste is recycled and in the Netherlands an average of 75% of C&D “waste? is reclaimed. This lack of activity and innovation here can only be due to a lack of interest. The American construction industry does not have effective incentive to change its approach.
Thesis Statement
Too often, sustainability is viewed as a good thing … for those who can afford it. But what good do a few LEED certified houses really do, when only 1% of American houses are designed by architects? The majority of people continue to live in homes built by contractors, largely uninterested or unaware of the potential of sustainable design. They would regard it as an impractical luxury. Since the focus of the popular press and even of architectural trade literature is often on high tech, high end solutions to environmental problems this isn’t surprising.
There are, however, many simpler options to reduce building footprint and environmental impact. Prefabrication, whole or partial, design for deconstruction, adaptive reuse, use of standard dimensions and simply reducing the size and scale of the building all involve reducing architecture’s contribution to the waste stream. Few, if any, of the above options make a building more expensive or more technologically complex. Waste reduction is a simple, effective and cost effective way to make a building greener. By approaching green design from the angle of waste reduction, it is possible to make it more and more immediately cost effective. My thesis proposes that environmentally friendly building techniques can be universally accessible when they are grounded in sound business theory and sensible waste management.

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