Approximately every two hours, virtually every day of the year, a piece of Vancouver heritage gets permanently destroyed beneath the relentless blade of the bulldozer. That’s 1,000 buildings a year. Admittedly some of these are well beyond their sell-by-date, and there is an inevitability about the ever-changing landscape of a modern city.
Although the pace of this demolition can be disturbing, what’s tragic is that little of the potentially valuable artifacts contained in some of these architectural gems are saved. Generally most of these materials find their way to the landfill, contributing up to 38% of the total waste stream. This despite the fact that that a City bylaw was passed in 2014 mandating 75% of all demolition be recycled in buildings older than 1940. In Metro Vancouver, 120,000 tonnes of construction and demolition waste is landfilled every year.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Habitat for Humanity, a charity formed in 1976, builds affordable housing and promotes home-ownership as a means to breaking the cycle of poverty. To fund their building program, they have retail outlets – ReStores – which sell re-usable items that their volunteers salvage from houses slated for redevelopment.Deconstructing buildings can provide several advantages over mechanical demolition, or wrecking. Waste reduction is most frequently cited as the main justification to deconstruct and reuse materials. Additional environmental benefits are also present through the reduction of adverse impacts associated with resource extraction, manufacturing, and transporting new materials. Benefits to the community are also present by making lower-cost building materials available for home improvement.
The older housing stock in Vancouver offers a great variety of materials that can either be salvaged for re-use (or upcycling), or at least properly separated and sent for recycling. In addition to doors, windows, bathroom and kitchen cabinets, electrical fixtures, lumber, drywall, masonry, plumbing, wiring, roofing can all be saved from the landfill. Old becomes new once more.
Scaling up deconstruction activity in Vancouver that preserves materials is a key objective of The Greenest City Plan. To absorb the potential 470,000 tons of used building materials currently available in Metro Vancouver is a challenge that will only be brought about by a concerted joint effort to bring together all the stakeholders such as contractors, developers, waste haulers, demolition companies, and the recycling industry. To this end a central Deconstruction Hub that can collect, sort, aggregate and market these materials is being pursued by a committed group who envision a whole new green industry based on appropriately deconstructing buildings. Other components of the Hub would include both a physical and online materials exchange to facilitate matching one persons waste as another’s raw materials. Re-manufacturing used material into entirely new products is another area of research that could provide a huge end-market for currently discarded materials. The Hub would provide training of construction industry professionals in how to properly de-construct buildings, with emphasis on conservation. Perhaps most importantly it would educate all sectors in the benefits of re-use, replacing the current throw-away philosophy with an ethic of “used is cool”. Watch this space for developments.
Continue with the Deconstruction Diary for a detailed account, photos and videos of a deconstruction in Strathcona.