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10 Strategies for Integrating the Circular Economy into an Architectural Design.

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

Adopting a Circular Economy: Strategies for Implementing a Sustainable Economic Model in Building and Manufacturing Industries:

The circular economy is a concept that prioritizes the elimination of waste and the efficient use of resources. It moves away from the traditional linear model of extract, use, and dispose of and instead focuses on creating a closed-loop system that maximizes the life of products and materials. The aim is to achieve sustainable growth by reducing dependence on finite resources and designing waste out of the process. This is supported by the shift towards renewable energy sources and the promotion of economic, social, and environmental well-being.

The circular economy operates on three core principles:

  1. Elimination of waste and pollution through design.

  2. Prolonging the life of products and materials.

  3. Restoring natural systems.

© Wikimedia Commons

Building and manufacturing companies can embrace circular economy principles by incorporating sustainable practices into their production and consumption processes.

1. Revamping Building Exteriors with Glass Finishes:

As the emphasis on sustainable design shifts to the broader aspects of sufficiency and consistency, the concept of renovation gains prominence. Glass is a versatile material that offers numerous possibilities for its usage in architectural design. Companies like Saint-Gobain are continually exploring new ways to optimize glass usage, updating outdated systems to align with sustainable practices. Replacing old glass-finish systems with modern, efficient, and eco-friendly alternatives can significantly impact an architectural project's energy efficiency and environmental impact.

© Jordi García via EU Mies

One example of the positive impact of this approach is the renovation of social housing in Bordeaux and Paris by architectural firms Lacaton & Vassal, Frédéric Druot, and Christophe Hutin in 2019. The renovation process maximized the potential of the existing space while addressing any shortcomings. Glassolutions, a Saint-Gobain subsidiary, supplied the fully glazed external elevators for the project. The architects stated that the transformation brought new living spaces to the dwellings, preserving the existing qualities and supplementing what was missing.

2. The Concept of Remanufacturing:

© Forestry Friendly Communities

Remanufacturing, also known as "value-added manufacturing," involves the rebuilding of a product to its original specifications using a combination of reused, repaired, and new parts. This process involves repairing or replacing worn-out or outdated components and modules. The idea of remanufacturing is gaining traction in industries such as automotive and construction, where machinery and materials with large manufacturing systems can be salvaged and reused to minimize environmental impact. An example of remanufacturing in a building context is the use of remanufactured wood for framing, finishing, and other value-added operations.

3. The Principle of Cradle-to-Cradle Fabrication:

Cradle-to-cradle design, also known as 2CC2, C2C, cradle 2 cradle, or regenerative design, is a biomimetic approach to product and system design that emulates nature's processes. It views materials as nutrients that circulate in healthy, safe metabolic systems. The concept was popularized by architect William McDonough in his 2002 book "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things." Since then, McDonough's ideas on C2C have been widely adopted in the fields of building and design ethics.

© Wikimedia Commons

Flooring company Desso has been at the forefront of the Cradle to Cradle approach. The company is continually exploring ways to implement circular economy principles, including implementing take-back programs and producing products with recyclable yarn that can be repeatedly separated and used. Desso uses 100% renewable hydropower electricity during every stage of carpet manufacturing and is working on developing bio-degradable materials such as corn by-products and bamboo yarn as the base for their carpets. This makes Desso a prime example of the practical application of C2C principles in architectural design.

4. Glass Wool Insulation as a Sustainable Option:

© Saint-Gobain

Glass wool is a material made from tiny fibers of glass and bound into a texture similar to wool, creating insulation by trapping pockets of air. Saint-Gobain's ISOVER is a prominent producer of glass wool insulation that is both energy-efficient and sustainable, using a high percentage of recycled glass, typically over 50%, in its production. The insulation offers many benefits such as reduced packaging, easy installation without glue, and the ability to fit into lightweight constructions. ISOVER's glass wool insulation is also recyclable and has a low CO2 footprint, with recycling services available in several countries.

5. Pay-Per-Lux:

The "Pay-Per-Lux" concept is a business model that leverages overcapacity in various industries. Developed by Thomas Rau and Philips, this model sells light as a service, providing only the necessary amount of light required for specific tasks in workspaces and rooms. Maintenance costs are included in the service. When the lighting needs change, Philips can either adjust the system to meet the client's needs or reclaim its materials for recycling through LightRec, its partner in the reuse of lighting components. Effective systems management has resulted in a total energy reduction of 55%, with 35% coming from the installation of LED lights and an additional 20% through Philips' optimization process.

© © Iwan Baan
6. Furniture Re-Usability:

Each year, approximately 15 million tons of furniture go to waste in the United States, and only a small portion, 2%, is recycled. However, there is huge potential in the market for used furniture, estimated at $10 billion annually. Alpay Koralturk established Furnishare, now known as Kaiyo, in 2014 in response to the waste and low quality produced by the traditional linear production and consumption model.

Koralturk designed the Kaiyo model to extend the life of high-quality furniture, adding value for previous owners and offering flexible options for future buyers. The model offers a way for people to monetize underutilized or burdensome furniture instead of having to dispose of it, potentially incurring additional costs. After the lease period, items returned to Kaiyo are refurbished, cleaned, and reintroduced into the market.

7. Modularity:

The office furniture market is experiencing rapid growth and is expected to reach a size of 100 billion dollars by 2024. However, the production of office furniture requires a significant amount of resources, with 80-90% being wasted after a short period of use. In response to this, Ahrend, a Dutch workspace design company, offers a furniture-as-a-service (FAAS) option where customers pay a monthly fee and return the furniture when they no longer need it.

This approach, known as an operational lease, allows customers to keep their working capital available and only pay for the furniture they use, as performer Senior Vice President of Ahrend, Peter Veer.

8. The Possibilities of Post-Consumer Glass Concrete:

© Archdaily

The use of Glass Reinforced Concrete (GRC) material is gaining popularity in the sustainable building and circular economy movement. Unlike traditional pre-cast concrete which uses steel as its main load-bearing element, GRC uses high-strength, alkali-resistant glass fibers that are embedded into a concrete matrix. The fibers act as the primary load-carrying component and the matrix transfers loads between fibers and maintains their position. Unlike steel, which has a tendency to corrode over time, glass fibers do not rust and are more durable.

Recent tests have shown that GRC is a highly energy-efficient building material that can achieve a BREEAM A+ material rating. The Austrian company Rieder Group offers GRC products using raw and natural materials. Their panels, made of glass-fiber reinforced concrete, are non-combustible, sustainable, and durable. They can be attached visibly or concealed on a metal substructure and can be colored with natural color pigments.

9. Circular Building:

The well-known quote, "We have a materials in the wrong place problem," by Cradle to Cradle founder William McDonough, highlights the reality that many resources in products are simply "used," not "used up." The materials themselves exist, but often are challenging to collect and recover or cannot be aggregated in a way that makes their retrieval practical.

© Superuse Studios

Villa Welpeloo, designed and built in 2005 by Superuse Studios, is a remarkable house and art studio due to two significant aspects of its construction. Firstly, 60% of the house was created using materials salvaged from the local area, and Superuse utilized an innovative yet straightforward approach to finding this source material. "We spoke to people who have access to waste material flows - Google Earth helps us identify waste stock in industrial zones," explains Jan Jongert, architect and Head of Research at Superuse Studios.

10. Product Passports:

© C2C World - by EPEA

The shipping industry heavily depends on fuel and steel, with the latter accounting for about 98% of the average container ship's volume. To mitigate the impact of fluctuations in the prices of these commodities, Maersk created the "Cradle to Cradle Passport," a first for the industry. The Passport is an online database that allows for the creation of a comprehensive inventory of a ship's components, making it easier to recycle them at a higher quality.

Through effective sorting and processing, the materials, including the 60,000 tons of steel per ship, can retain their properties and potentially fetch a better price when resold. This innovative system has the potential to greatly reduce the environmental footprint of the building industry, as it affects the shipping of materials and products globally, from start to finish.


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