The construction sector in Australia has been brought further into the circular economy as a new building constructed largely from recycled materials and designed to be disassembled and moved has been completed.

Opened last month, the L3 Legacy Living Lab at Development WA’s East Village development in Fremantle south-west of Perth will serve as a resource to support and inform the building industry on different construction methodologies and to test new products and review the performance of materials including their energy consumption, automation and effect on building wellness.

Based around the ‘circular economy’ concept, the building itself aims to reduce emissions and waste by using recycled materials, embracing modularisation and adopting design features which make it easy to move and able to be fully disassembled.

Recycled materials include:

  • The 17-tonne steel frame, which came from a project that went be bankrupt and was originally destined for recycling but was able to be redesigned for the project
  • Carpet from a near-new office space on St George’ Terrace in Perth which was due to be thrown away as that building was being renovated. Being secured with a double-sided contact pad rather than glue, it can potentially even be reused again in the future
  • A beautiful 100-year-old Jarrah staircase from the Dingo Flour Mill in Freemantle – the use of which not only saved it from going to waste but also brought local history to the project
  • The outdoor balcony, made from recycled tyre rubber and plastics
  • The acoustic ceiling panels, which are 68 per cent recycled PET bottles and other plastic materials
  • The kitchen benchtop, made from pressed recycled timber.

In addition, significant benefits have been derived through the building’s modular design, which has helped to reduce its carbon footprint from around 50 tonnes for a building of similar size using traditional construction to approximately five tonnes.

Rather than a concrete slab or foundation, the building uses a steel micro-pile footing system which consists of a series of steel poles that are skewed into the ground at specific angles to create anchorage.

By itself, this measure saved the need for 20 tonnes of concrete and has instead necessitated only 800 kilograms of steel.

The modular design has also created a building which is flexible, durable and deconstructable so that materials can be recycled or reused at the end of its life.

On flexibility, the building can be relocated – potentially multiple times.

Partly because of this, its anticipated lifespan is 50 years rather than 20 years.

Upon reaching that end of life, the building will be capable of being deconstructed.

When this happens, 57 percent of the materials will be able to be reused in other buildings while a further 25 percent will be able to be recycled.

Only 18 percent of the material will need to be disposed of.

Finally, the building features solar panels, an on-site electric vehicle charger and water balancing features.

The building was designed by Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute PhD candidates Timothy O’Grady and Roberto Minunno together with Curtin Professor Greg Morrison and many industry partners.

It will support research into precinct scale initiatives that will help to inform best practice design for future housing and urban developments.

O’Grady said opportunities to reduce waste during construction should not be underestimated.

“In Australia, the construction industry is responsible for about 30 per cent or 20.4 million tonnes of annual waste,” O’Grady said.

“Although it’s a significant and largely ignored issue, this is also an opportunity.”

Development WA CEO Frank Marra said the State Government’s central development agency was supporting the project through $100,000 of funding and a three-year lease.

Industry partners for the Legacy Living Lab (L3) project included Acoufelt, Armstrong Flooring, BGC, Bluescope Steel, Brajkovich Demolition, Curtin University, Delos, Development WA, Enware, Fleetwood Australia, Forest One, Infinite Energy, Intelligent Home, Interface, ITI – Innovative Timber Ideas, Jason Windows, Ludlow Timber Products, Metforce Balustrades, Met-tech imaging, OP Properties, Proform, Quantify Technology, RWC – Reliance Worldwide Corporation, Schneider Electric, Somfy, Stramit, Verosol, and Weathertex.