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Green Building | Roadbuilding

July 9, 2010

Past holds lessons on design of sustainable infrastructure

ST. ANDREWS, N.B.

Civil engineer Vic Perry thinks there is a lot to be learned from the past when it comes to designing sustainable infrastructure.

One factor that often is not given due consideration is longevity, says Perry, vice-president and general manager Ductal at Lafarge North America and the recently elected president of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering.

“Building it once and having it last a long time improves sustainability,” Perry told the recent national convention of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies-Canada.

Vic Perry

He cited the example of European cathedrals built before 1000 that still stand today.

Perry, who has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering as well as a master of applied science degree in structural engineering, said the concept of sustainable infrastructure needs to be more clearly defined.

The classic definition of sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

“If we can describe the parameters that make infrastructure sustainable or approach sustainability, then engineers would have a clearer vision or goal for designing their projects.”

With the intent of providing food for thought, Perry tossed out some suggested parameters. These included energy and water self-sufficiency over the life of a facility, “near-zero” maintenance and operations to net-zero impact on flora and fauna.

Perry, a fellow of Engineers Canada, told consulting engineers from across Canada attending the convention that sustainability also involves the 3Rs of recycling, re-use and rehabilitation of facilities.

“History repeatedly shows us that upgrading infrastructure once it is built is an approach that is normally more cost-effective, that reduces the environmental footprint and is more sustainable.”

A case in point, Perry said, is the Brookyn Bridge in New York which was built in 1883 and today carries 145,000 vehicles for day.

“With proper maintenance and care, the bridge will continue to [remain in operation] for many more years to come.”

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