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Circular Building: points of interest and tools

Sustainability has been around for quite some time now in the world of design and construction. Throughout the years, the concept has changed constantly. Lately, ever more focus is put on circular building. And neither can this topic be considered as new. Not in theory, in any case. In practice however, it appears matters are somewhat more complex to apply. At the end of March, Pixii organised an Expert Day Circular Building. Tim Ost, project engineer sustainable design and BREEAM International Assessor with VK Architects & Engineers, gave a lecture on demountable building systems.

Circular building

Today, the larger part of present infrastructure is still realised with static building solutions. Though attention is paid to responsible use of materials (such as FSC certification or biodegradable products), demolition of a building is still equal to a large amount of waste and limited possibility of re-use. In circular or reversible building, from the design phase onwards, attention is paid to the renovation or demolition scenarios, with the ambition to reduce the environmental impact of a building. The circular approach lengthens the materials’ technical life cycle, and limits the use of new resources.

Design for disassembly: demountable building

The dynamic solutions of circular building bring about a revolution in construction. Alternatives are being looked at, by implementing reversible connections and dry building systems. This allows for a building to be dismantled for the most part (instead of being demolished), back to its basic components. It enhances the potential for re-use and recycling.

In his lecture, Tim Ost presented alternatives for the building envelope, the bearing structure and for the finishing, introducing various systems.

Points of interest

Despite the growing interest for circular or reversible building, there is still a long way to go. The awareness of designers and contractors is steadily growing. The government and manufacturers also have to be involved, if circular building is to make an entry that counts. There is a need for tools that help to apply the circular thought in practice, as well as to make it reliable and affordable.

Ovam already published ‘Design for change: development of a policy and transitional framework’, to demonstrate the importance of adaptable building to designers and developers. There is also the development of the EPD-database. Manufacturers can add their products, for designers to compare the objective environmental performance. The digital MMG-tool TOTEM, on which VK collaborated, enables also to calculate the environmental impact of building materials. At least as important, is the role of the government in formulating a benchmark for a building’s environmental performance, comparable with the energy performance level.

The increase of potential re-use and recycling of building materials possibly opens the way for new end-of-life options. Could it create more take-back systems, where the manufacturer delivers not so much a product as a service? Will demolition contractors evolve more and more to recycling contractors? Will a second-hand market arise, for the re-use of materials?

VK has noticed in competitions that some (public) developers/investors already express the ambition to follow the circular notion, even though no legal framework is available. So circular building is closer at hand than you might presume. The time is now for all involved actors and the government to play their part in the evolution towards zero-waste buildings.