Adaptable Infrastructure: Design for Wanted Lifespan

It still works!

‘Sure, the infrastructure is overdesigned/excessive at present but, with growth, it will be adequate in the longer term’.  Thirty years ago, this was the accepted theory underlying much building construction, particularly in electricity generation.  When you have grown up with a particular mindset, it is hard to shift it.  Even when all the evidence points in the other direction.

At my first presentation on infrastructure renewal in 1987 I had a keen audience and question time went for over an hour.  Then one fellow asked ‘With the technology we now have, surely we could make our buildings last for 300 years’.  My response brought question time to a sudden close. What I said was. ‘My goodness!  Why would we want to?’  Peter Erkelens, of the Eindhoven University of Technology, is one professional who has been considering this problem for more than a decade now and he has developed the ‘lifespan approach’.  His view is that we should design and select the components and their connections in such a way that they function in accordance with the wanted lifespan.

He suggests we think in terms of the relationship between the economic (or functional) lifespan and the technical lifespan and that we look at three scenarios:

A. Economic life span < Technical life span.

The components of this infrastructure should be re-usable and/or recyclable

B. Economic life span = Technical life span.

The components should be recoverable and then recyclable

C. Economic life span > Technical life span.

The components of the infrastructure should be replaceable and recyclable

Peter Erkelens argues that ‘the design efforts should be such, that the resulting products are sustainable. This requires thinking about environmental effects and should include options for re-use, replacement and recycling’.

To see detailed ideas about how this concept can be applied to buildings, both offices and housing, See Peter Erkelens

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