The Living’s Hy-Fi structure for MOMA PS1 gallery is made of bricks fabricated from ecovative—a product grown from agricultural waste and mycelium. The bricks require minimal energy to make and both the steel forms and the bricks can be recycled, in technical and organic circular loops.  

Strategies to reduce waste during construction fall into three broad categories:

Designing for Material Optimization

Reduce the amount of materials within the fabric of the building, as well as the waste produced during construction. Design for deconstruction of materials and components at the end of their useful life.

Material Selection 

Promote a circular economy by reusing materials and components and specifying materials with recycled content.

Waste Management Planning On-Site 

Ensure that procedures on the construction site facilitate waste segregation and recycling.

Planning for reduced C&D waste must happen at a project’s start and be part of an integrated design approach. Considerations per phase include: ←  US Green Building Council, “Greenbuilding 101: What is an Integrated Process?” 5/7/2014, link.

Pre-Design Phases

  • Set goals for waste reduction and decide if design for deconstruction and flexibility principles can be used.
  • Survey the existing site to see if reuse of building components or adaptive reuse of the building is possible.
  • Programming: Can space be made smaller through a more efficient use of assets?
  • Methods: Can design be BIM to include material information, with life-cycle analysis embedded?

Schematic Design

  • Hold a collaborative workshop at the schematic design phase, for creative solutions for material optimization and waste reduction.
  • Consider constructing building components and modules off-site.

Design Development & Construction Documents

  • Coordinate dimensions between structural, planning grids and floor-to-floor heights and modular materials. Standardize similar elements of the building for repeatability.
  • Use BIM for three–dimensional coordination and material information.
  • Write specifications that detail C&D waste diversion requirements and on-site separation and minimum requirements for recycled content; also, allow for the use of offcuts and reclaimed products and materials.

Material Optimization Strategies

2.25 Maximize asset utilization through programming

Program to Make the Most Use of an Assett

Providing flexible spaces that can perform multiple functions, as in NYC’s School Construction Authority’s gymatoriums which maximize a space’s use by serving as both gym and auditorium. This can also happen at a neighborhood scale—e.g., The Center for an Urban Future’s report Reenvisioning Branch Libraries explored the variety of functions libraries could serve as they maximize the utilization of space. ←  David Giles et al., “Re-Envisioning New York’s Branch Libraries,” Center for an Urban Future, 9/2014, link.

Design to Increase the Usage of Spaces and Equipment Within a Building

Smart planning can reduce built area, furniture and equipment to optimize the use of every space and piece of equipment. Consider whether spaces can be multifunctional or flexible so they’ll be used consistently all day long. Studies show that the average office is used 35%–40% of working hours. Hot-desking, in which each employee is not assigned a desk, allows for a smaller space; it also provides a variety of workspaces and benefits employees who work remotely. ←  Ellen Galinsky and Eve Tahmincioglu, “Why Citi Got Rid of Assigned Desks,” in Harvard Business Review, 11/12/2014, link.

Polished concrete floor and exposed ceiling reduces finish materials.

2.26 Design to optimize material usage 

Design can make the most of materials that become the physical fabric of the building. This decision should be balanced with longevity, flexibility and other life-cycle considerations. Strategies include:

  • Design efficient structural systems that use less material for the same performance—such as a braced steel frame instead of a moment frame, or a material-efficient foundation system.
  • Rationalize MEP layouts to reduce material and energy usage from friction within ducts and pipes.
  • Choose finish materials that serve multiple functions – such as pin board and acoustic treatments, or use structural materials that do not require applied finishes.
2.27 Design to reduce waste generated during construction

Considering the construction process ahead of time aids in determining where waste is created; engage the contractor early. Design to lower the number of material offcuts. ←  See also WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) Davis Langdon LLP, “Designing Out Waste: A Design Team Guide for Buildings” (site: Press, yr), 24.

The circular building by Arup Associates was designed to circular economy principles.

Coordinate Dimensions and Minimize Finish Types

  • To minimize cutting, coordinate dimensions between modular materials such as panels or tiles and finish areas.
  • Reduce number of different types of finish materials, such as GWB and tile.

Design for Off-Site Construction

Off-site construction has been shown to create less waste by reducing errors and rework. It also reduces offcuts and allows for their reuse and recycling.

Use Building Information Modeling (BIM)

BIM and/or three-dimensional modeling of all building systems allow for virtual coordination, thereby minimizing on-site construction errors.

2.28 Design for deconstruction at the end of life of a building component

The many layers of a building have different life-spans. Shearing Layers, a concept coined by British architect Frank Duffy, lists them in order of decreasing life-span: Site, Structure, Skin, Services, Space Plan (interior partitions, finishes) and Stuff (furniture). Design for “slippage” so removal of short life-span layers can occur without disturbing longer life-span layers. Consider an end-of-life destination for each layer. ←  Frank Duffy’s concept described in Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn: What Happens after They’re Built (New York: Viking, 1994).

Design for Easy Refurbishment of Isolated Materials

Design for replacement ease at the smallest level. For instance, selecting floating carpet tiles that adhere with tabs ensures that damaged tiles can
be individually replaced; some carpet manufacturers blend in tiles from another dye lot so attic stock won’t be required.

Design for Deconstruction and Disassembly

For ease of separation and deconstruction, fix components together by reversible means. Consider mechanical fixings; avoid gluing and composite materials. Consider using a type of mortar that allows bricks and blocks to be easily dismantled.

Provide Material Information: Material Passports

Consider providing information about building materials that will allow for easier reuse later. The information may be available in a BIM data model and can also be physically attached to the materials.

Consider Suppliers Willing to Take Back Materials at End of Life

When possible, buy a service as opposed to a product. Philips, for one, doesn’t just provide individual light fixtures—it provides lighting as a service. This gives a manufacturer incentive to offer long-lasting, easily maintained products and puts the onus for removal on the service provider.

Lighting in Schiphol Airport is provided by Philips as a service

Material Selection Strategies 

2.29 Reuse existing materials—and buildings—on-site

On the initial site visit, survey all materials and structures, if any, that are available for reuse. Then aim to reuse them at their highest capacity.

Atrium of EDC’s Brooklyn Army Terminal industrial campus. (Adaptive reuse of 4.1 million sq ft building)

2.30 Use reclaimed components and materials

While reclaimed components and materials offer great savings, they do present challenges, including a lack of guaranteed performance and difficulty in sourcing. Reclaimed finish materials that offer good performance and aesthetics, such as old-growth lumber salvaged from barns, have substantially entered the market.

  • Consider reclaimed components like raised floors, kitchens, furniture systems, doors and carpet.
  • Consider choosing reclaimed materials—such as bricks and lumber—especially if they’re local.
  • Reuse excavation material and balance cut and fill on-site.
  • Write specifications allowing the contractor to substitute approved reclaimed components and materials.

Reclaimed raised floor system and wood paneling used in the Audubon offices by FXFowle

2.31 Specify recyclable materials with high recycled content
  • Consider materials with high recycled content that can themselves be recycled at the end of life, preferably in a continuous circular loop without downcycling.
  • Consider locally sourcing recycled materials, such as glass pozzolan, which can replace cement in concrete.
  • Consider Cradle to Cradle–certified products.
  • Explore the health impacts, performance and product durability materials options.

GWB scraps separated for recycling in 30 cu yd containers on a large construction site

Waste Management Strategies 

2.32 Require a construction waste management plan

Write specifications to require a construction waste management plan that covers on-site storage and logistics and sets diversion goals. Require that some material—like furniture and carpet—be removed before the demo permit is issued.

  • Consider how work sequences affect the generation of construction waste. Whenever possible, engage the contractor early to discuss measures to reduce waste generation.
  • Consider imposing a financial impact on the contractor, such as construction bonds, if CWM diversion goals are not met.
2.33 Reduce surplus material

Specify takeback for surplus materials, and just-in-time purchasing to minimize overordering.

2.34 Separate construction waste on-site
  • Specify on-site practices to separate easily damaged streams such as GWB, ceiling tile and carpet.
  • Consider instituting on-site practices for reducing packaging and ongoing waste generation by workers.

Salvaged bricks are separated for reuse


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