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Design for Deconstruction


k iets ta D ign l kf o r D e c o n s t r u c t i o n

I have a Dream Dr Terry Quarmby has a clear vision of demolition in the future: a world where destruction has been replaced by deconstruction; soft strips are handled by humans wearing powered robotic suits and, most ambitious of all, where architects and builders consider demolition BEFORE construction begins. Mark Anthony reports. “I have a dream. I have a dream that one day little architects, little builders and little demolition professionals will join hands…” OK, he didn’t quite say that. But while it might lack the historic resonance of Dr Martin Luther King’s famous speech, in demolition terms, Dr Terry Quarmby’s vision of the future is just as bold and almost as ambitious.

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The former Institute of Demolition Engineers’ president and – to the best of our knowledge – the demolition world’s only Doctor – foresees a Utopian future in which demolition is factored into construction before a sod is turned; where entire structural elements can be used multiple times in multiple buildings; a world in which labourintensive soft strip processes have been replaced with robot-suited workers gathering reusable materials for their next application.

Circular, not Linear Quarmby has been a vocal advocate of Design for Deconstruction (DFD) since before the Government’s Random Acronym Generator (RAG) got around to coining the term. And there must have been times when he felt as though he was talking to himself as difficult-todemolish new builds utilising impossible-to-recycle materials sprang up across the country. “Architects are designing primarily for cost and aesthetics and not for durability or reusability. You can’t tell me that a building like The Shard was built with DFD in mind,” he insists. “Demolition doesn’t generally work in perpendicular angles so when The Shard does come down, it is going to be problematic.

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Design for Deconstruction

The chances are that the materials used in its construction will not be easy to reuse or recycle either.”

with landfill as the ultimate destination. They need to understand that is, in fact, circular. Car manufacturers have signed up to an end of life directive which means they are responsible for the disposal of that vehicle for its entire life. We need the same thing in construction to ensure that designers and developers look beyond their own short term aims and take into account the likely fate of that building several generations into the future.”

While he firmly believes that architects should be planning now for demolitions that are likely to take place in the next 30 years, Quarmby says that planning for re-use is even more important. “All too often, buildings are being designed with a single use in mind. Ceiling heights, for example, might suit one kind of use but might be totally impractical for another.

Front-Loaded Although he is not specifically advocating a return to natural and virgin materials, Quarmby believes that we have much to learn from our Victorian-era forebears. “In Victorian times, the cost of construction was front-loaded. They invested in good quality stone and timber that would stand the test of time. That is why the UK still has so

All too often, we are taking down buildings that are structurally sound but which - for one reason or another - are no longer fit for purpose,” he asserts. “Architects and their clients need to understand that reuse is cheaper and more energy efficient than recycling. For too long, they have viewed construction as a linear process; an A to Z process

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many fine Victorian buildings. They were built to last,” he says. “Today, however, too many buildings are being built with cost as a primary concern. While that might make the cost of construction cheaper, the knock-on costs of reuse, recycling and demolition are considerably higher. They are merely creating a problem for future generations.”

that vision, materials will not simply be crushed for hardcore or shredded for fuel. Instead, entire structural elements of a building will be salvaged for reuse in a new building. “In a steel-framed building, this will only require the disconnection of node points,” he says. “And in the age of Building Information Modelling (BIM), information on the materials used, how they were fixed and bonded and their location should be readily available.” An admirable ambition no doubt, but one that will require the demolition business to reinvent itself.

Part of Quarmby’s vision of a DFD future is a greater switch to reuse rather than recycling. In

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Design for Deconstruction

“Such a step-change will require a root and branch change in the way we do things in this industry from the equipment we use, through the processes and methodologies we employ, to the way in which we market ourselves,” he explains. “If we are to truly embrace DFD, we must be able to deconstruct buildings in a modular fashion in order to generate the materials required for any new build. Although this will require a greater understanding of structural engineering and load paths, it is not insurmountable and would only enhance knowledge.”

Robot Workers One key element of Quarmby’s vision is a change in the way that soft strip operations are conducted. Today, this is one of the most labour-intensive, time-consuming and potentially hazardous parts of the demolition process where operatives are required to separate the materials into their respective waste streams to identify recycling opportunities and remove hazardous elements.

“Because of the way buildings of the past have been built, the soft strip requires workers to be dextrous. That is why the process remains the one part of demolition that requires significant manual handling with little call for mechanisation. The best that soft strip crews can hope for today is to be able to put all the arisings together and send off to a materials recycling facility for others to segregate and process,” he says.

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“But if buildings were designed in a more modular and DFD-friendly manner, whole portions of the building could be removed for redeployment in another site. Rather than 20, 30 or even 50 men being employed on a soft strip, we might have two or three – each wearing powered suits carrying multiple attachments that would allow them to cut, crush and carry large and bulky items. Imagine that suit being equipped with a tarmac chisel that could be punched down the back of a skirting board. Straight away, you have salvaged some valuable timber that could be cut to length and reused elsewhere.”

“It will be a challenge, and the biggest problem at present is that it is only the demolition business – the people that have to deal with the mistakes of others – that are shouting about it. But a change will happen. It has to,” he says. “We live on an island with finite natural resources. And within the next seven years, landfill will cease to be an option for the disposal of so-called waste materials. Now is the time for designers and developers to work with us to plan for a future without virgin materials or ready sources of disposal.” Despite the magnitude of the challenge ahead, Terry Quarmby remains fiercely optimistic about the demolition industry’s ability to evolve, adapt and overcome. “The demolition industry has proved time and time again that it is flexible and willing and able to embrace change and I have no doubt that we will do so again to accommodate DFD. Whether that is in the development of robot workers, converting salvage yards into the builders’ merchants of tomorrow, or buying up used landfills to extract valuable materials dumped by previous generations, I know that the demolition business is

It is easy to dismiss Quarmby’s crystal ball gazing as fanciful science fiction. But, as he points out, the technology already exists. “In both the nuclear industry and the medical profession, tools can be guided by the hand gestures of a technician or a surgeon in a remote location,” he insists. “We already have a considerable expertise in both hydraulics and remote control within the demolition industry. A combination of the two could make a powered suit a reality.”

Playing Catch-Up

equal to the challenge,” he concludes. “Like our universal adoption of recycling, it is now for the rest of the construction industry. and in particular designers of construction products and buildings, to learn from us and to hopefully catch up.” “The actions of our generation should not be detrimental to the environment or the health, safety and welfare of future generations. We have the technological expertise to manage that change, but do we have the desire and drive to implement it? 2020 and the proposed end of landfill is fast approaching and we need solutions to waste disposal. Will we be ready?”

Despite his optimism about the industry’s ability to embrace DFD and an army of “robot workers”, Quarmby is a realist who recognises the challenges that lie ahead. Having experienced first-hand the challenge of getting quality approval of secondary aggregates when the recycling debate first emerged, he knows that secondary structural elements will face a similar uphill battle; one that will require Government backing and a buy-in from the insurance sector who will be expected to underwrite parts of buildings two, three or even more times.

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Design for Deconstruction