Architects have the potential to prevent Malba (C&D waste) by up to 40% through simple design interventions. In this article we list 7 such strategies for architects who want to close the loop.
Architects have a key role to play in the circular transition of the construction sector. They are the flag bearers of innovation, the key decision-makers of design – and smart designs today, have the potential to impact sustainable development for decades to come.
Take a look at any circular building project and you will notice how circularity elevates traditional architecture in terms of its impact, engagement, design, and innovation. It is the result of a deliberate, collaborative process, that aims at improving environmental quality, economic prosperity, and social equity for all stakeholders today and in the future.
In this article, we summarise seven ways in which architects can contribute to closing the loops in the building industry.
#1 Adopt the Circular Mindset
Acceptance and acknowledgement of the fact that we live on a planet with limited resources is one of the first steps towards going circular. Necessity is the mother of invention, it is rightly said, and wanting to meet our present needs, without compromising those of future generations, can lead to frugal innovation which is one of the best enablers for circular design.
Figure 1: The flooring at Avasara Academy by Case Design showcases a creative use of stone quarry waste (© Ariel Huber)
#2 Change the Design Process
In our current design process, an architect provides the design instructions, and the manufacturers and suppliers customize the materials to meet those specifications. However, closing the material loops for existing waste streams necessitates the architect to adapt the design to the available materials by designing from an already available catalogue of circular building materials. Any extension in the life of available materials streams will yield benefits if one can design around these resources.
#3 Reuse and Recycle More
The recycling plants are actively working to collect, transport, and process Malba into new building products. At the same time, the informal sector is working to enable material reuse by harvesting and reselling it in second-hand markets. The industry, however, cannot sustain the market for reused/recycled products if the architects’ demand for these materials is not high enough to match the supply. So we recommend you explore recycled materials and get creative with how you can incorporate them.
The Re-wind project in Denmark came up with an indigenous way of repurposing the non-biodegradable wind turbine into bike sheds.
Figure 2: Non-biodegradable blades of wind turbine repurposed as bike sheds in Denmark (© Chris Yelland)
#4 Embrace the Circular Aesthetic
Buildings reflect the architect’s vision and contribute significantly to the aesthetics of a city. Hence, it is safe to assume that the aesthetics of materials greatly contributes to their reuse potential in the industry. Some materials hold a heritage value which makes them highly valued by the architects and end-users. However, most modern industrial materials when reused materials do not hold the same handcrafted, vintage value, hence getting rejected due to societal perceptions. Therefore, it is critical to question this notion of architectural aesthetics, which must be created with the materials available locally.
We love the example of the People’s Pavilion in the Netherlands, which embraces the raw, natural aesthetic of material and joinery that is ”designed” for demountability, i.e. circularity.
Figure 3: The circular economy aesthetic (© Filip Dujardin)
#5 Design for Reuse
A large proportion of buildings are already built, and thus, only a little can be done to enable their reuse in the future. Therefore, architects need to design new buildings with ‘Design for Reuse’ principles to ensure the future building stock does not face the same fate. It entails designing transformable buildings to keep up with future requirements, engineering detachable building components for ease in deconstruction, and using durable materials that can be reused multiple times.
The “reversible design” of the BRIC (Build Reversible in Conception) building permits it to be assembled and disassembled yearly per the changing functions – office, shop, acoustic library.
Figure 4: BRIC building designed to enable reuse (© BAMB)
#6 Use Better Technology
One of the most significant barriers to going circular is a lack of information. But thanks to BIM software, that isn’t an issue anymore. BIM can give architects information about material take-offs, standard sizes, wastage, maintenance schedules, etc. There are now also cloud-based platforms, AI, machine learning integrated tools that make going circular a much more pain-free process. Using digital twin, assigning material passports, and digitizing existing structures are all essential tools that an architect can use to track materials available for subsequent use in the building stock.
Oogstkaart is an online material directory in the Netherlands that lists circular building materials available in the neighbourhood. It is used by architects, homeowners, material suppliers, and contractors for the sale/purchase of residual material flows.
Figure 5: Oogstkaart platform set up by Superuse Studios and New Horizon in the Netherlands (Source: oogstkaart.nl)
#7 Thrive by Collaboration
It is important to note, that while architects play a very important role in designing circular buildings, they are not the only actors in the building supply chain. There are the workers who execute the work, project managers and contractors who manage the supply chain. There are also material manufacturers who create the products that architects build with, and recycling plants that deal with the Malba that is generated at the end of life of a structure.
Often, the mockups built for construction projects are discarded prematurely due to their limited utility. But, thanks to the partnership between the architect, the material supplier, and the façade builder, the mockup facade designed for the Gare Maritime Museum in Belgium could be remanufactured for The Field project in the Netherlands.
Figure 6: (left) Mockup facade for Gare Maritime, Belgium, and (right) Reused façade for The Field, Leiden (© Harvest Bay)
To truly close the Malba loop, working together is necessary and architects need to get their hands dirty to ensure this transition. It’s time to break out of that isolated office bubble and get building better, more circular.
Now you know how.