What happens at demolition?

Oct 24, 2022

Before Nightingale projects begin construction, we often have to demolish existing buildings. So what happens during demolition, and how do we make this process environmentally sustainable?

Repurposing materials 

Nightingale sustainability principles are in practice from the earliest on-site works. In the demolition phase, this means reducing embodied carbon by salvaging as many materials as possible from existing buildings - instead of creating new materials.

At our current development Nightingale Wurru wurru biik in Brunswick, 95% of materials from the original buildings will be recycled or diverted from landfill. As with many Nightingale sites, the existing buildings were brick warehouses. These structures already contain a lot of embodied carbon, so it’s fortunate that they're made from materials that can easily be reused. 

Why is this important?

The construction sector is currently responsible for a huge 39% of global energy related carbon emissions. Broken down across operational emissions versus embodied carbon, that figure includes 28% from the energy used to heat, cool and power buildings, and 11% generated through materials, construction, maintenance and demolition. 

As well as delivering homes that are 100% carbon-neutral in operation, Nightingale reduces the embodied energy footprint by working with recycled, natural, sustainable and locally-sourced materials where feasible.

The process

We begin demolition with an existing materials audit. Nightingale creates an inventory of material types and quantities found in the existing buildings. At Wurru wurru biik, these included bricks, timber, steel, roof sheets, handrails, and windows. We share this ‘shopping list’ with the project architects, aiming to utilise as much existing stock as possible in their design. 

We then work closely with the demolition contractor to ensure materials are carefully handled and sorted. Bricks might need to be hand-demolished so that they can then be sent off-site to be cleaned and cut, and incorporated into a new build. This was the case at the Wurru wurru biik site, and the salvaged bricks will be used in the building facade of Nightingale Ngawan, part of the new development. Hardwood flooring removed by hand during demolition was used in the new homes at Nightingale Skye House

Anything we can’t reuse ourselves is recycled by our demolition partner Delta, who provide recycling statements outlining which materials go where. Wire cut bricks are in this category; they’re less durable than solid pressed bricks, making it difficult to re-use them in a new building. Along with concrete, wire cut bricks are crushed and used as fill material in other projects.

The benefits

Recycling materials is a simple and effective way to avoid creating unnecessary carbon emissions. 

There are financial benefits too. While of course there are costs associated with salvaging materials, purchasing new ones adds a far greater cost to the project budget.

Crucially, repurposed materials also look great! At Nightingale we embrace reductionist design and materials in their raw form. We love the perfectly imperfect, and think that materials that have had a previous life bring warmth and character to Nightingale homes.


Nothing lasts forever, and Nightingale homes are constructed with the knowledge that they, too, may eventually be demolished. When choosing both new and repurposed materials for a build, we consider whether they can be recycled if the building is pulled down after a century or two. We use concrete, bricks and steel as these can be reused or recycled later on, and we also work with partners to make sure items like light fixtures can be disassembled and their parts repurposed or recycled.

Photos show demolition in progress at the Nightingale Wurru wurru biik site. Find more images at Placemaking.

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