‘Buildings must be reused, not demolished’

RIBA architects claim a circular economy approach should be taken towards construction – with more focus on the reuse of older buildings, rather than their demolition

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The construction sector needs to have more consideration for the carbon footprint of its buildings, adopting a ‘whole life carbon’ (WLC) approach that reviews the carbon emissions produced across the entire life cycle of a building.

That is the claim made by architects from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), which have stated the afterlife of buildings and cost of their disposal should be taken into account just as much as their construction.

RIBA is calling for a more rigorous assessment of the carbon impacts of buildings from the supply of raw materials, their transportation, the construction process, the use of the building, followed by its demolition or disposal.

The architects have stated that simply replacing old buildings with new ones that are more energy efficient is not the most sustainable approach, as the carbon emissions released through their demolition or deconstruction and produced by reconstruction can be greater than if the buildings were simply refurbished.

RIBA is therefore calling for a circular economy approach to be applied more stringently to construction.

It reinforces the thoughts of Miko Farnetani, Embodied Carbon & Circular Economy Lead at Environmental Engineering Consultant Hilson Moran, who claims a ‘cradle to cradle’ approach should be adopted – ensuring materials used to construct a building should be retained and reused for as long as possible. He goes on to conclude that buildings should be designed for adaptation, easy deconstruction and reuse.

“Despite the fact that whole life carbon includes operational and embodied emissions, the two disciplines are too often addressed separately.

“Embodied carbon reduction strategies influence building performance and vice versa. But in many cases, design team members carry out assessments in silos and the final outputs are combined at the end without any collaboration – without the joined up thinking needed”, says Mr Farnetani, who believes WLC will become a key factor in the UK’s quest for net zero carbon development.