The Circular Economy: Science and Business of Construction I Reuse Edition

Fall 2022 - ARCH 4619, ELECTIVE SEMINAR - with Barbara Lambec

As a way to overcome the social, economic, and environmental problems of the current linear construction industry, a circular economy is defined as a restorative and regenerative system by design that keeps products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. The consequent closing of production and consumption loops offers the possibility to end the loss of valuable finite resources, reduce dependencies on global, volatile resource markets, prevent greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, and support new business models and green job opportunities.

Within this paradigm shift, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle (3R) each play individual roles at different scales. As a technology-driven approach embedded in global supply chains, and with limited disruptions to established design, permitting, certification, construction and financing processes, the industry was quick to establish recycling solutions at the end-of-use of buildings. However, most of these processes can at best be considered downcycling and remain part of the linear economy.

In contrast, reuse offers social and ecological benefits in line with the circular economy definition: it reduces waste and landfill volumes, while avoiding energy-intensive and often toxic extraction, production and transport of new items – actions that impact the global climate crisis –, capturing feedstocks for emerging localized industries and providing economic development opportunities. As a distinctive local solution, reuse is harder to scale. Limited by the needs for data on material availability and specifications, new (de-)construction methods and technologies, circular business models and adjustments to code and legislation, material reuse requires a new approach to building design and detailing. Informed by stakeholders and community partners, the Reuse Edition of the seminar series The Circular Economy focuses on the science and business of building material reuse within the specific economic and legislative conditions of Ithaca, NY.

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