News: 9th March 2017

An insight into the Re-Use Atlas No. 7

The Re-Use Atlas: A designer’s guide to the circular economy

Author: Duncan Baker-Brown RIBA FRSA

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Entry number 7

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Since the Waste House was completed in June 2014, Duncan Baker-Brown has been working on a book that considers the challenges and opportunities presenting designers and clients who wish to ‘mine the anthropocene’, with existing places, communities and stuff previously mined and processed. Duncan’s book is entitled ‘The Re-Use Atlas’. It will be published in May 2017. However, this blog will give people the opportunity to read parts of the book before the publishing date. Enjoy!

Part 2 of the atlas is divided into four chapters, taking the reader on a step-by-step route towards closed loop systems. Each ‘step’ contains a number of case studies that capture some of Duncan’s first-hand research, gleaned from interviewing over fifty people involved in inspiring projects from around the world that tackle recycling, re-use, the reduction of resource use, and finally closed loop systems. These case studies are supplemented with one longer interview with a significant protagonist from each of the aforementioned steps. Therefore unless stated otherwise, any comments quoted from people in the case studies have been taken directly from interviews Duncan had personally with them.

Step 2 Reusing Waste

Case Study – HUB 67 by LYN Atelier

Andrew Lock founded LYN Atelier, a London- based architecture, interiors, exhibition and theatre design practice, in 2009 after winning a design competition. Fairly soon LYN was getting commissions for temporary buildings such as The Festival Village below the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank. This project gave the practice the opportunity to explore collaborative design processes (in this case involving up to 200 artists).

In 2011, LYN Atelier was invited to bid for what became the ‘HUB 67’ project: a temporary community centre made from material collected in shipping containers after the Olympics closed in 2012. The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) had a huge site in the Lea Valley (‘over ten football pitches in area’, according to Lock), where structures such as temporary food kiosks and banks etc were being deconstructed, as well as running track, seating, concrete barriers and lots of other valuable material. The ODA was keen to prove that it could create something meaningful for one of the communities near to the Olympic site. Initially, Lock says, it was really difficult to assess the potential of the resources, as his team were only allowed an hour or so on site. Instead of providing a detailed design proposal for their winning bid, they produced more of what Lock called a ‘statement of intent: a working methodology’.

Even when LYN got the commission, Lock says access to the site was limited: the contractors were busy doing other tasks for the ODA. Also, the ODA’s bureaucracy was huge and cumbersome, set in place for multimillion-pound stadium and infrastructure projects. Even though Hub 67 was only a £350,000 temporary community building, the ODA procurement route started off being the same as for these much larger projects. Whenever Lock and his colleagues needed to visit the material site, they had to complete a risk assessment, and then would have only about an hour on site.

As a consequence, Lock developed a keen eye to spot potential building material. He soon noticed that there were a lot of steel frames with glazed and insulated composite metal panels, the remains of the banks and food vending machines. Lock secured nine of these to create the structure of Hub 67. Cladding came in the form of the external finishing for the Olympic Training Centre. Lock states that they only had to get one of the roof elements built from new, as there wasn’t a correctly falling existing roof element to reuse.

The original suppliers of this material were supportive of Lock reusing their product, as they were keen to demonstrate how their product was indeed designed for ‘remanufacture’. Nevertheless, the acquisition of this second-hand material was very time- consuming and stressful. The client (the ODA) had not had the time to think through the implications of constructing a building out of second-hand material. This was Lock’s belief.

The contractual set-up was also not appropriate for a small construction project made of second-hand material. The main contractor for the project was a small building company not used to working with 500- page contracts such as the type the ODA normally issued. They successfully negotiated the contract size down to a mere 75 pages. However the contract was still a ‘standard’ NEC (New Engineering and Construction Contract), with its obligations for the building contractor to guarantee proper performance of the resultant construction. This immediately raised the question: ‘How does one guarantee the performance of a building made from second- hand materials without the data that proves the quality or standards of these materials?’ This issue reinforces the need for ‘material passports’ discussed later on in this book. The contractor took an informed risk. They assumed that as the building would only be used for three years, they would probably not test this issue of building fabric performance ie, how the external fabric of this building performs from the point of view of insulation levels, air tightness (ability not to leak air through walls/ roof etc) and therefore conserve energy and weather proofing (all issues checked by Local Authority Building Control Department).

The main challenge that Lock and his colleagues at LYN Atelier had to overcome was that the definition of a ‘temporary building’ as far as the Building Regulations is concerned is a building occupied for up to two years. The Hub 67 building needed to be occupied for over three years. The consequences of this were profound. The external fabric of Hub 67 had to meet the airtightness and insulation levels described in ‘Part L2 2013’, which was brand new legislation at that time. Thanks to the team pulling together (and somebody finding a gadget that can measure the U-value of the different materials as they were reassembled on site!) they were able to meet this additional challenge. The project was built on budget and on time (constructed in a little over 12 weeks), which considering the unusual constraints and challenges facing the design and construction team, and indeed the client, was a real achievement.