My role recycling bricks at Kylie's off-grid house

Andrew, a builder, recycling bricks and getting them ready for the bricklayer

Andrew, a builder, recycling bricks and getting them ready for the bricklayer

Four workers are recycling bricks and mortar at Kylie’s off-grid house.

As the brick walls are brought down the bricks are cleaned, stacked and ready for the bricklayers to re-use to make the new piers and walls.

The mortar chipped off the bricks is also recycled and mixed with the clay soil excavated from the site.  The lime in the mortar helps break down the clay soil and make it suitable for the new garden.  The mortar and soil is mixed and stored in large bags ready for the work on the new garden which will take place at the end of construction. 

In the middle of this project it’s useful  to briefly describe the role and services I'm providing. 

When Kylie commissioned me to design, specify and then to work with the architect, engineer and builder to make the house off-grid we agreed on some key parts of my brief, including that I would provide services to achieve as much recycling as possible of all materials already on site.  To do this my scope of works and services specifically lists the goals Kylie has and which I must work towards achieving for her. And here’s the critical part: my scope in key areas is the same as the scope for the architect, engineer and builder and subcontractors.   

We all have agreed to work to achieve Kylie’s goals.  This is critical because it means we work as a team and support each other.  The key here is to build a common sense of purpose, trust and partnership.  So it’s not a case of me or anyone directing others; that’s a cause of tension on projects.  Once recycling of timber, steel, materials is in each contract so that that must be provided then Kylie can know that her money is going to achieve her goals and she may expect that they won't be undermined by the different goal of the architect, engineer and builder.  

Yes, there are robust discussions, and often different opinions and priorities, but as each progress payment must explicitly or implicitly say the works and services have been delivered to achieve Kylie’s goal that tends to focus us on what matters to Kylie.  The key here is to build trust and curiosity about the options.

My role is to coach each project member how best to achieve Kylie’s goals; to give examples, to explain and to be particular so that I nominate products, materials, suppliers and design options all of which can best provide solutions which achieve the goals of the client.

It’s essential for me to defer to others who have formal qualifications on issues which I don’t but at the same time to question assumptions and practices and to offer alternatives.  A project is just a set of ideas, after all, isn’t it? And ideas can be refined, improved or changed through discussion.

Ideally, my coaching role should not be needed. But sustainability – in the true, practical sense – is not taught to architects, engineers, builders. I know because I teach in an engineering faculty at a university and the students are mostly illiterate about sustainability.  And as a result almost everything that gets built is unsustainable. Visit almost any building site and you will see for yourself the huge waste of materials to landfill, the use of precious timber ransacked from the forests of Indonesia, Sumatra, Vietnam and elsewhere.  

Earth simply cannot keep giving and giving and we cannot expect her to support our culture until we use her limited resources efficiently.

As we go on with the project I’m drawing up a list of how and with whom we recycled or purchased recycled materials and products so that I may blog those details here for others to consider.  In this way I  hope others may build and live sustainably.