Our latest blog post by Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic).

Every now and again, a legendary text is born. We live in this time of legends, with the email I have dubbed ‘This Week in Demolition’ being a new hit on campus. It’s easy to see why. Forget profile pics, personalised URLs and segmented journey mapping. Forget the spin, too: this is stripped down, thumped out text with no frills, promising a step by step account of the removals, diversions, interruptions and demolitions coming to the University’s largest ever construction site. This week, for example, promises high-voltage diversions and ground levelling.

Figure 1: demolition stage 1: asbestos remediation and demolition of the Manning Clark Centre

It’s compelling reading. Think Northern Territory News without the crocodiles. It’s a dose of straight talking that our colleagues from overseas would see at the forte of Australian English. Nothing beats a bit of demo and dirt for a yarn, you might say.

It’s straight by necessity. No-one wants to be left wondering whether ‘urban regeneration’ means steel cutting, pile driving or the threat of your power being cut off when you are trying to write a book or to teach a class. It’s a salutary lesson in treating our community as adults, calling a spade a 600kg front loader and driving a, well, wrecking ball through cyrusian prose.

It started with the understandable anxiety of not knowing. Some people may think that university campuses flow with rivers of gold, but the shabby truth is that many staff and students try to work and to study at their best in buildings that weren’t even chic in the 1970s. They have never known what it is like to work in a new building, let alone be near the construction site for one. Ramp that demolition up to four buildings in quick succession—with the precise removal of Canberra scourge, asbestos—and indicate that six new buildings and a carpark are coming.

Figure 2: Dirt craft, supersized

Chances are that you won’t know what that sounds, smells or feels like, and that you are not thrilled at the prospect. But if you have a simple, blunt account of what to expect, chances are that it won’t be quite as bad as you imagined it to be without that information.

The demolition and ground works we have commenced follow stages that are common to building sites around the world, and echo a strengthened commitment to sustainability. Stage one involved the extremely careful removal of asbestos, including some friable materials. This was done under vacuum seal in some cases, and always under the watchful eye of what is called a ‘building hygienist’. The second stage involved stripping out the interiors of the buildings, which speeds up building demolition. A key commitment in the second stage is to recycle and reclaim as many of the removed materials as possible.

Figure 3: Demolition Day 1, Manning Clark Centre

This turns out to be a critical step, as government estimates put half of our country’s landfill as arising from building rubble. Recycled concrete and bricks can be used as a base for pavements and roads. Asphalt can come back in new road surfaces. Recycled metal can be melted down and reused; recycled timber can make an appearance in structures and on facades. Dirt can be moved around to level a site. The more we recycle, the lighter our ecological footprint with the new build. Our goal is not simply to do no harm in the new construction; recycled materials, wood, water runoff capture and reuse and a suite of clever approaches to electricity management will see the site become more ecologically friendly than at present. We leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it.

That’s minor comfort if you have to work with the sound of steel sawing outside of your window right now. But I’d rather be honest about that, note that demolition is a finite activity, and look forward to a better environment. That’s good sh••t, as Australia’s own demo man, Laurie Vautier, would say.

This blog’s shout out is for Amanda Cox, the doyen of demolition.