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How technology can enable the re-use of steel in buildings – part 1 the structural point of view

24 June 2015 No Comment

Written by Matthew Teague

As our ability to catalogue and record the component parts which are joined together to make up our physical world – by using an increasingly sophisticated and complex virtual one – so it becomes easier and more economically viable to identify those parts of an existing structure which may be appropriated, in part or whole, to become integrated into a new and perhaps radically different artefact.


Part of a bridge might become a brace in a new commercial building, a column which was not subjected to more than its design load could easily be used as a column somewhere else, with no degradation in performance whatsoever. The enabler in such a paradigm shift consists of at least two discrete elements; joining technology and information technology.

A marriage of technology

Firstly, it is axiomatic that in order to take something apart without breaking it the method of fixing should facilitate disassembly. In steel construction the bolted connection – a simple, tried and trusted technique, combines utility with practicality in a way which renders attempts to update it – there are all manner of fancy hole-and-slot or click-fix patents gathering dust, while the good old metric nut and bolt combo soldiers on.

Of course, bolted connections do suffer from an aesthetic handicap, in that it is hard to design something which would look as clean as a welded joint between two tubes in a tubular truss for instance. But it would not be a great step to imagine the entire truss finding a re-use, rather than just its individual components.


Which brings us to the second element – information technology. Rudyard Kipling once wrote;

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

We could re-jig this as; What is it? Where is it? How has it been used in a previous life.? And then; when can I have it? Who has got it now? Why? – because it’s a good idea and I might save some money, and maybe the planet at the same time….

The realism

With Building Information Modelling, the cloud and advances in tagging will enable us to know more about our built environment than ever before – knowing where everything was in a building, who made it and what its capabilities were, used to be the preserve of a master carpenter, surveying the King post roof he’d just supervised the building of, or a Master mason, watching his many apprentices and underlings at work. Now, you or I can take an iPad onto site and instantly know where parts will be, what they are made of and what their design is intended to achieve.

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