Mark Wilson from BuildingDesignExpert.com shares why he believes there is no such thing as a sustainable material and why it is our environment we are really hoping to sustain.
Interview with Mark Wilson
Mark started out as an architectural technician in 1985 and he later became a chartered architectural technologist when this became an option from The Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists. Over the years he has worked for architects, developers and contractors producing technical drawings and details for new buildings, extensions and refurbishment projects.
There is No Such Thing as a Sustainable Building
For something to be sustainable it must be replaceable at a rate greater than or at least equal to its use. Mark explains with an example of how bricks are manufactured. First they must be dug out of the ground, then transported and heated to very high temperatures in a kiln. It's not as if they are returned to the ground. In other words it is not a sustainable process.
It is Actually Our Environment We Are Trying to Sustain
If we consider that the most sustainable building is absolutely no building at all, then everything else is a compromise. Therefore what we are really trying to maintain is our environment and the way in which we live. We can't stop building because it's the way we interact with the planet. Instead we need to limit the damage we’re doing and limit the carbon that we’re creating.
Technology is Both The Cause and Solution to Our Problems
Mark explains that the Romans took us down this path of technology when they invented bricks and concrete, and started building with stone. However, it was the Industrial Revolution that led to us using dramatically more energy. As far as Mark is concerned technology is responsible for our current environmental predicament but it may just be the way out, too.
Specifying is Identifying All Aspects of How the Project is Going to be Completed
When we are specifying for a project we are identifying the materials, the forms of construction and the forms of procurement. The process takes into account what will be within budget and what will meet the project brief (in terms the most sustainable way – in environmental terms – that we can construct that project). It's every bit of detail from start to finish.
Ultimately Manufacturers Will Have to Divulge The Embodied Carbon Content of Their Materials
Every material has got an embodied carbon content and there is no way of knowing what that is unless it is stated by the manufacturer. That's why Mark reckons that there will come a time when this information is declared. Only then will you be able to determine the material's contribution to the sustainability of the project.
Buildings Could be Recycled After a Finite Period
Mark reflects on one of his recent podcasts when he spoke to Martin Townsend from the BRE about the lifecycle of buildings. It is possible that we could be designing buildings to last for 20 years, for example, but importantly at the end of that time all the materials could be used in another way or recycled into another building.
Expect Compromises Along The Way
Ultimately responsibility falls to us (as clients) to create a home with smallest carbon footprint possible but we have to realise that this is not straightforward. There will be constraints of the site, planning regulations and the budget to consider plus many other parameters. Therefore you cannot possibly tick all boxes.
Using Products From an Architectural Reclamation Yard is a Good Way to Recycle
Mark says that if your budget allows for it, one way to be kind to the environment is to reuse materials. There are some beautiful second-hand demolition reclaim products that you could source for your new building. If done in the right way with the right sort of professional help, they will look fantastic.
Energy in Use is Just as Important in The Life Cycle of The Building
Using materials with the least amount of embodied energy is clearly important but not if it neglects energy in use. We should be considering the whole life cycle of the building from construction through to eventual demolition.
Get Involved in The Process of Specifying Materials
This may take time but look into the background of the materials and even come up with your own specification. Work out what you’re going to use, how you’re going to use it and where. Your appointed design professional should be able to help you down this road.
Choosing a Quality Material Doesn't Necessarily Mean it Will Perform Better
Mark talks about how a lead roof might cost you a fortune but it will last 100 years (so long as it's not pinched!). However, paying more money for a material doesn't always guarantee its performance. Some people, for example, might be drawn to a material because of its aesthetic appeal.
We Should All Have an Eye on The Future
A great deal of change is coming our way and we should have that in mind when we build. Mark says that integrating rainwater harvesting, for example, would be a good idea. Although it has a capital expenditure over and above piping your rainwater into the local surface water sewer, the saving of water over the lifespan of the building would be huge.
In the UK alone the population is predicted to increase by 14 million people by 2030. This does not mean there will be a greater supply of water because we'll still have the same rivers and reservoirs that we have today. It is just a natural resource that we take for granted that is likely to cost more and more in the future.
Find Out More About Mark Wilson
Our Question for the Comments Section
What materials are you going to use on your build and why?
Ben's Video Idea To Follow a Complete Passivhaus Project
This is about following a house build from conception through to completion, breaking it up into bite-size YouTube videos. Ideally it would be a construction that aims to meet the Passivhaus Standard and importantly the project would be as close as possible to Hertford, UK (to keep the costs of production down). Read the full proposal of what the value of this would be and how it would be achieved.
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Watch Our Latest Google+ Hangout
We'd like to say a big thank you to Matthew Cutler-Welsh, Philippa Richard and Ben Shideler for taking part in our second Google+ Hangout. We aim to hold two more in 2013 and we'll announce the topics soon to our mailing list.