Defab - architecture for a circular economy
Gerard Finch’s Master of Architecture thesis explores a new and sustainable approach to construction. The developing system, X-Frame, provides a unit based structure which is reusable and can be applied to any design. This case study focuses on Gerard Finch’s
Master of Architecture thesis. Finch’s motivation stems from the building industry’s waste, which contributes up to 50% of the refuse loads that are sent to landfill globally. The research has highlighted that in most cases building products and assemblies do not allow for ease in deconstruction or material reuse. Finch’s research aimed to address the limitations of conventional prefab solutions by developing structural timber elements for the Circular Economy.
The thesis targeted issues concerning the fact that many innovative solutions do not separate dependant building layers, such as the wall lining and structural frame. Additionally, traditional construction methods fit building elements together using adhesives and nails which limits reuse. The challenge, therefore, was to detail the structural frame for lateral bracing while also removing the need for additional building elements and fixings.
The structural system was designed to use joints made from the same structural material, that doesn’t require specialist tools for disassembly. A standardised repetitive structural unit was deemed essential to address the waste and reuse issue by allowing architects to design to the section size. Standardisation was achieved through using as few differing elements as possible and keeping each designed unit (900mm by 900mm) to be independently adaptable.
The research was centred around the use of low-cost natural materials with a closed-loop cycle - meaning building elements can be recovered from structures and recycled either naturally or through industry processes. Untreated structural plywood was adopted as it has the sustainability advantages of timber, is highly dimensionally stable and is a machinable product. The research notes that plywood is not a closed loop product, however, there are emerging technologies such as bio-based adhesive products that are likely to transform plywood into a circular construction material - reusable and infinitely recyclable.
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