In the wake of the Corkman hotel demolition debacle in Melbourne’s inner city Carlton, comments have surfaced to suggest demolition of any type might soon become unviable unless a building is completely degraded.
Dr Robert Crawford, senior lecturer in construction and environmental assessment at the University of Melbourne, told The Fifth Estate that as costs of disposing of construction waste at landfills continue to rise, and the cost of the resources and energy needed to make new building materials also escalate, there will be more incentive for people to keep buildings.
Wasting a building also means wasting embodied energy.
In terms of the Corkman, for example, the structure probably represented between 40 and 50 per cent of the embodied energy in the building. It also represented embodied water.
“If you knock the building down, you then have to replace it, so you have to extract more natural resources, you need more energy, and you need more water.”
On a Green Star project, or where the builder or client has strong sustainability goals, there is a focus on recycling construction and demolition waste, he said.
However, given the Corkman demolition was illegal, it is unlikely all the waste material was sorted for recycling or reuse. That means there is an extra environmental impact in terms of adding to the stress on landfill and the pollution created by landfills.
Dr Crawford said that because of the way landfills charge for disposal – by weight – increasing charges have made the business case for recycling concrete and steel already quite viable. Other materials, however, can cost more to recycle than to dispose of at this point.
There are also no mandatory regulations in Victoria that any specific C&D material waste must be recovered for reuse or recycling.
He said he has been called in by people fighting for the preservation of heritage buildings to provide an analysis demonstrates the sustainability benefits of retaining a building.
While it is “harder” to adapt existing buildings to improve performance, there are ways of achieving adaptive re-use.
The Corkman for example could have been adapted for commercial offices or accommodation potentially, he said.
“One hundred and fifty years ago they didn’t design for adaptive re-use,” he said. “But now we do.”
While the student body at the University of Melbourne mourns the loss of one of its preferred watering holes, Dr Crawford said it could be a good challenge for students in his Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning to try and design something to replace it that “responds to what was on the site”.
Another sustainability expert told The Fifth Estate that he would “bank on it” that within the next 10 years, the time will come when landfill is so expensive and the twin issues of waste and embodied energy so high on the agenda that “you just won’t be able to knock down a building”.