Unbuilding the City: Deconstruction, Reuse and the Circular Economy

Authors: Nicholas Lynch*, Memorial University Of Newfoundland
Topics: Resources, Canada, Urban Geography
Keywords: circular economy, reuse, deconstruction, demolition, waste
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Granite A, Hyatt Regency, Third Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Globally, the construction, renovation and demolition (CR&D) sectors are increasingly responsible for growing resource demand and structural waste, even given progress in energy efficient technologies, ‘green’ building design, and planning policies that improve livability. In response, the Circular Economy (CE) has become a popular agenda in the CR&D sector as it offers a new model that not only maximizes materials reuse and recovery but also reframes urban systems and the built environment in a closed-loop (cradle-to-cradle) paradigm. In particular, popular visions of the CE promote, among other actions, ‘optimizing’ the end-of-the-life of buildings and their materials. Deconstruction (i.e. piece-by-piece demolition) and material banks are two key optimization strategies that have received increasing, yet limited, attention by researchers. This paper traces the development of the deconstruction sector in Canada, focusing on the possibilities and challenges of deconstruction and material recovery practices as strategies for a transformative CE. In particular, I investigate two related aspects: first, the emerging policy landscape surrounding green demolition and ‘unbuilding’ practices; and, second, the establishment of CR&D material banks through initiatives such as the Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore program and in new calls for the development of local ‘Deconstruction Hubs’. Overall, the paper finds that while these examples represent fundamental steps toward a more sustainable built environment, there remain a number of social, political and economic limitations that must be confronted if we are to meet the growing demands for more radical sustainability and ‘circularity’ not only in Canadian CR&D sectors, but across Canadian cities and beyond.

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