Written Paper

Extending or ending the life of residential buildings in Japan: A social circular economy approach to the problem of short-lived constructions  [2019]

Wuyts, Wendy Miatto, Alessio Sedlitzky, Raphael Tanikawa, Hiroki

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The construction of residential buildings requires the extraction and production of large amounts of materials, with obvious consequences on the natural environment. Buildings are capital-intensive, requiring considerable physical, economic, and societal investments. In order to amortize their environmental impact, buildings should be used for a period of time that maximises their utility. However, the average lifespan of a residential building in Japan is of only 25 years, a time that has been shortening since the World War II. Numerous Japanese houses are used for less than a generation before being demolished or abandoned, posing a risk for public health, decorum, and safety. This study presents a holistic view of the pressing societal and environmental concerns related to short-lived buildings, which can be used to identify sustainable strategies for the realization of a circular built environment in Japan. This study used a qualitative approach (i.e., media content analysis, field visits to local communities and citizens, expert interviews, and statistical validation) to identify the factors and path dependencies that have led to a low average building lifespan during the second half of the 20th century; moreover, the study investigated the stakeholders in favour of these short lifespans, their own motivations, and the rationale behind recent countermeasures initiated at the local to governmental levels. Numerous stakeholders were motivated by the eco
nomic costs or alternative post-materialist values, attitudes and aspirations, emotional attachment, or by a combination of these factors. Their decisions resulted from reflections and personal experiences of societal issues related to short-lived constructions in Japan. The article concludes that all residential buildings should be serving society and presents a framework for the identification of delayed, justified, or premature obsolescence. This framework can be used to decide whether the life of a residential building should be extended or ended.

From the journal

Journal of cleaner production

ISSN : 0959-6526