Chapter 1Introduction

Our whole economy has become a waste economy, in which things must be almost as quickly devoured and discarded as they have appeared in the world, if the process itself is not to come to a sudden catastrophic end.

(Hannah Arendt1)

Today buildings are a graveyard for materials – once used they rarely have a further life. We hear that increasing percentages of demolition waste is ‘recycled’, but what value comes from this? Most recycling actually means crushing and use as road base or for other low value uses. Much of the usefulness and financial value is lost. Yet existing buildings and industrial waste streams are huge reservoirs of materials and components that can potentially be mined to provide much needed construction resources. There is increasing recognition that a building at the end of its life is an asset to be valued and that innovation and imaginative design can offer new opportunities for using discarded materials and components as valuable parts of buildings. In the developed world we can learn from ecological systems and from resource strategies in poorer parts of the world, where materials are more precious and salvaged items are more highly valued. This may help to create material systems for construction that replicate and integrate with the cyclical features of nature.

But what would our cities look like if our buildings were to be built from locally available, renewable and salvaged resources? What sort of new urban vernacular may emerge ...

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