Reworking construction process and materials for a fresh approach to sustainability

Jan 11, 2018 Sustainability

In the competitive design and construction space, keeping up with new processes across modular builds and trends in natural materials puts you in the driver’s seat to deliver sustainable solutions for clients.

Smart modular construction: A new path to sustainability

There’s nothing new about prefab, but it’s a whole lot more than just kit homes.

With modular construction taking around half the time as on-site builds, sustainability features may be the key to growing the modular building industry beyond its three per cent share of the $150 billion Australian construction industry.

Ultimately, sustainability is achieved through manufacturing, construction and end-of-life. The manufacturing process can deliver unparalleled accuracy and less material waste through exact measurements and cutting technologies, and improved air quality through using dry materials.

Environmentally friendly features—like lighting, windows and solar—can be installed during the manufacturing stage, to meet green building standards. The environmental impact of construction can also be reduced through reduced disturbance of the site, and buildings can be disassembled for reconfiguration, relocation or recycling.

Modular sustainability in action: La Trobe Tower

La Trobe Tower in Melbourne is currently Australia’s highest modular building at 133 metres high, spanning over 44 levels.

Manufactured by the Hickory Group, the project demonstrates the sustainability possibilities for modular builds. Waste reduction is a key achievement of the project; accuracy in measurements and computerised cutting led to 90 per cent less waste than traditional manufacturing methods (with 98 per cent of that waste recyclable).

The process also reduced risk of paint and plaster washing into stormwater (as bathrooms require minimal fit out on site). Additionally, it minimised dust levels and air pollution, and reduced truck deliveries to site by 40 per cent.

It’s also good financial news—the modular processes used to build the La Trobe Tower can provide floor-to-floor advantages to deliver substantially more saleable area without compromising internal ceiling heights or increasing total building height.

Key to growing the modular build sector and its sustainability profile is incorporating use of smart materials, and taking a long-term view of costs to ensure energy efficiency.

Making this integration a reality means adopting new materials, primarily those which focus on the ‘passive house’ approach—insulated homes which are airtight, energy efficient and comfortable all year round.

Natural materials in action: algae power and smart stone

In another initiative towards sustainability, a team from University of Technology Sydney is developing a prototype algae facade panel to power buildings.

“This will have the potential to provide biomass and thus biofuel to meet some of the buildings’ energy needs,” says Associate Professor, Sara Wilkinson.

The algae technology may unlock the potential to reuse water by remediating stormwater and greywater on site, rather than requiring transport to treatment facilities.

And then there’s smart stone.

In the conventional glass recycling process, only a single type of glass can be recycled successfully in one batch. Using a process developed by the SMaRT Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technologies, different kinds of waste glass can be recycled together. Mixed with a non-toxic polymer resin, its then processed into a marble look-alike stone material. The recycling process itself is more efficient and produces a usable building material. Now that’s smart.

Where process and materials meet to create sustainability

As processes and materials are reworked, computer-aided design help them work together to deliver on energy-efficiency and flexibility. New fabrication technologies are more easily applied in factory-controlled settings, and open up possibilities for efficient, sustainable and creative design and construction.

With the Australian modular industry having capacity to manufacture over $1 billion of modular products each year, a focus on sustainable materials in a reworked construction process may be the key to growing the industry. There’s real possibility that large-scale constructions can become eco-friendly structures that neutralise their impact and support the environment.

Do you supply materials and solutions that are improving the sustainability of the construction industry? Join DesignBUILD as an exhibitor and connect with the industry’s largest architecture and construction audience. Find out more about exhibiting here.