Comment – Demolition’s defence

I have seen some horse-shit peddled as journalism in my time. I have, on occasions, shovelled some of it myself in the past. In my defence, I have generally done this only because the price was right – A guy’s got to eat, right?

But the Breakfast Show on BBC1 on Friday, followed by a chunk of the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 just after noon the same day really took the equine faeces pile to unprecedented new heights.

The BBC was reacting to a piece of pseudo-science and propaganda from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA); a once great institution that should be ashamed at having stooped so low in the pursuit of relevance. The BBC, another once great institution, should be ashamed at having acted as a conduit for such poorly researched and poorly argued old tosh.

According to RIBA, around 50,000 buildings are demolished each year in the UK. But that all needs to stop because we haven’t taken into account the environmental implications of demolition over refurbishment.

Whether or not that 50,000 number is accurate is open to discussion. What isn’t open to question is whether the demolition industry is environmentally aware. I realise I am preaching to the choir here but there is NO other industry that is more environmentally aware. Demolition has to jump through legislated environmental hoops on a daily and even an hourly basis. Hell, the profitability and the very survival of demolition companies hinges upon its ability to recycle, reuse and repurpose materials recovered from structures now considered surplus to requirements.

By the time the story was run on the radio at lunchtime, RIBA had entirely parted company with reality. A spokesman first suggested that demolition merely “down-cycles” materials, turning concrete into road-building aggregates. Not only is this patently inaccurate, do we not need roads all of a sudden?

And then, in a moment of insight and inspiration, the RIBA man then proposed a bold new idea called “deconstruction”.

Now if that term sounds familiar to you, it’s because it has been a fundamental principle of the demolition industry for decades. It is, however, a principle that is made problematic, challenging and – on occasions – downright impossible by the very people this publicity-hungry buffoon actually represented – The architects that design and specify structures utilising materials that cannot be recycled without enormous additional cost or that spew ozone-depleting substances into the atmosphere.

Full disclosure – I was aware that this item was about to air. If you watch the Breakfast Show version, you will see that all the mechanical demolition footage is credited to DemolitionNews because t came from our archives. It was me that suggested to BBC researchers that Dr Terry Quarmby – former president of the Institute of Demolition Engineers (IDE) and a vocal advocate for an end of life directive for buildings – would offer a good counter point to the RIBA nonsense. Even though he was afforded little more than a sound-bite contribution, Quarmby did precisely that.

With the “voice of the demolition industry” blissfully unaware of the BBC TV item in the morning and then offering its customary Marcel Marceau impersonation on the radio in the afternoon, it fell to current IDE president Richard Dolman to offer some balance on the Jeremy Vine Show.

Even though I am sure he had much more to say, Dolman acquitted himself well. He was considered, eloquent and presidential. It is just a shame that his time, knowledge, experience and insight were wasted on such a flawed argument.