According to Gov.UK, the UK construction sector is undergoing one of the biggest periods of expansion in its history. Global pandemic notwithstanding, a planned UK governmental spend of more than £600 billion over the next ten years provides a sizeable opportunity to support jobs and the British economy. Seen alongside a watershed moment for climate change, the UK is clearly focused on increased development but this means clean growth and green building are now top of the agenda.
Over recent years the construction sector has made significant strides in carbon reduction. Buildings are becoming more energy efficient during their use phase and the environmental load of initial construction is subject to increasing analysis. Yet progress in these areas doesn’t outweigh the fact that an overall increase in demand for new building, in the face of population growth, is putting our ability to manage a finite supply of raw materials under strain.
But progress is being made and the galvanizing industry in the UK and Ireland and across Europe has produced a sustainability guide aligned with a circular model of construction widely acknowledged as the future for green building. Based on the principles of circular economics, it outlines a list of key options for maximizing use of raw materials such as designing efficient, reusable buildings and, first and foremost, designing products and projects that are built to last.
Jubilee Campus, Nottingham University
When constructed, Jubilee Campus coincided with Nottingham University’s Centennial Jubilee in 1999. The unique, freestanding circular learning resource centre and conical lecture halls made full use of their lakeside setting. The design included a sophisticated natural ventilation system for its time.
Images © Simon Congdon.
Building to last is not something new. Examples of Victorian construction are still standing today and some of their engineering solutions are definitely standing the test of time, but building with longest possible lifespan as a first principle is a shift.
Design life requirements of structures vary greatly but within a circular framework, we no longer design permanent structures that require renewal after 25 years. Instead buildings that can be demounted and repurposed are prioritised, standardised components are chosen that can be re-made and re-used. All elements are designed with longest durable lifespan possible, which when they have had multiple lifecycles can be recycled and kept in the loop.
Galvanized steel is an ideal material for this kind of circular thinking and is essentially a permanent material, offering an excellent cradle to cradle carbon footprint. But even during a single lifecycle, data on the corrosion protection offered by a galvanized coating shows how the process of galvanizing steel components offers lifetime protection. A galvanized steel structure or component can reach a century before it requires any attention.It is clear that the first port of call for designing for a low carbon future should be to design buildings and components that offer once only solutions; structures which are durable, reliable and will stand the test of time. If we design well today, growth and sustainability can go hand in hand. We won’t only be thinking about the next ten years, we’ll be keeping the next fifty years and even one hundred years in mind too.