The 180

More prefab equals less waste

When you tear a house down, most of what's left goes to the landfill — even if the materials are, in theory, recyclable. But architecture professor Joshua Taron says prefabricated homes, if done right, could mean a lot less waste.
Joshua Taron says if prefabrication was done right, there would be less demolition - and therefore less waste. (Jared Thomas/CBC)

Prefabrication makes it easier to put buildings together. Joshua Taron, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Calgary, says prefabrication should also make it easier to take them apart. He argues this could going a long way to reducing how much construction and demolition waste is diverted into recycling streams. 

The basic idea behind prefabrication is that things are easier to out together...If something's easier to put together, there's the possibility of it being easier to take apart. And that's where divertability really comes into the fold.- Joshua Taron , University of Calgary 

"You could have a very recyclable product like wood, a very recyclable product like steel, and have a building made out of those things. But if there are permanent connections between those, if they're not designed to come apart, neither of them becomes divertable. Or, it takes a lot of labour to take it apart...If things become cost-prohibitive to disassemble, then people will revert to demolition."

Taron says prefab is becoming increasingly popular, but the thinking around buildings is not changing enough to take full advantage: "Houses are still built to be monolithic, and, in a sense, permanent, and last as long as possible. And there's some really good arguments for doing things that way, but then there are problems as well." 

Joshua Taron is an associate professor of architecture at the University of Calgary. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

If prefab buildings were as easy to take apart as they are to put together, buildings could be disassembled instead of demolished. 

The parts could then be recycled, or even reused. 

"Prefabrication and the questions and the opportunities that it raises, I think architecture has a responsibility to get a handle on it." - Joshua Taron

Taron's work involves something he calls "chunkitecture," which is the idea that buildings could be assembled out of entirely prefabricated sections — like kitchens and bedrooms. Those sections could then be swapped out — and resold — when the needs of the homeowners changed. 

"Prefabrication and the questions and the opportunities that it raises, I think architecture has a responsibility to get a handle on it." 

Taron calls on his fellow architects to take on those questions, and opportunities. 


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