A basic tenant of sustainability is to reduce waste, either by reducing consumption, recycling materials, or repurposing materials. What if the latter two of those options were applied more aggressively to the built environment? Some modern technologies are allowing architects to rethink the way buildings are designed and built, and are allowing for the possibility crowdsourced floor plans for homes that could be made of 100% local recycled materials.
(The Kamermaker, 3d printer designed by DUS Architects)
Building waste, either from construction or demolition, accounts for a large percentage of the waste stream. According to a 2003 Environmental Protection Agency publication, construction waste accounts for at least 400 million tons of landfill debris in the United States (http://www.epa.gov/osw/inforesources/pubs/infocus/rif-cd.pdf). A number of issues contribute to this. First, the challenge of remodeling existing buildings requires much greater labor hours and time than simple demolition. That, coupled with the fact that many mid-20th century buildings are either at the end of their life because of wear, or have outgrown their usefulness as societal expectations and use patterns have changed is the reason for such high waste levels.
But what if we could deconstruct outmoded buildings into their constituent pieces instead of tearing them down and throwing away their debris? What if buildings were constructed out of standardized, modular, and easy to produce components? Construction and deconstruction could become dramatically more efficient.
(The 3d Print Canal House in Amsterdam, a protype project using 3d printed modular bricks. photo: DUS Architects)
The 3d Print Canal House is a project by Amsterdam based architecture firm, DUS Architects that is utilizing burgeoning 3d-printing technology to answer these questions (http://3dprintcanalhouse.com/)? DUS designed a prototype 30+ foot tall 3d printer which they are using to print large plastic components for a house. The pilot project has huge potential for sustainability and social welfare. Materials for the bricks could easily be made from locally available materials including waste plastics. This eliminates the need for transportation of materials, reduces need for additional outside materials, recycles local waste, and allows for easy and customizable and downloadable buildings.
This type of cutting edge technology, adopted at a large scale, and applied in a modular fashion, could have a revolutionary social and economic impact. A number of policy barriers naturally exist to the implementation of such a scheme here. The City of Seattle, if it is serious about sustainability, should adapt its bureaucracy to allow for this type of innovative experimentation. By adopting an innovative construction pilot program to streamline building and zoning code challenges for such projects, Seattle could help push sustainable development types and become a global leader in sustainable development.