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Rethinking buildings through Circular Design

You may have already heard about the words “circular design” in a product creation process, but what does it exactly mean?

The term Circular Design aims to describe the creation of products and services for the circular economy. It means thinking of products with their end of life in mind and reducing their impact throughout their lifecycle. In the construction sector, we have to rethink how we develop our buildings, beginning by looking deeper in the raw material sourcing and location of these materials, by focusing on the reuse and the recycling of materials instead of using new ones, by reducing their maintenance and reparation in usage and by thinking of their disposal, reuse and recyclability at their end of life.

Circular economy applied to Buildings

Currently, 10-15% of building materials are wasted during the construction and most of the demolition materials are landfilled. To avoid material waste we must adopt a circular economy approach by:

  • Sourcing raw materials locally in order to reduce carbon emission due to transportation.

  • Focusing on the use of biobased materials: they are biodegradable and created from biomass. As such they are natural, do not have polluting or toxic ingredients if not treated, and they remove carbon from air by sequestering it and transforming it.They can be looped back as they can potentially be reused or recycled in other material cycles or byproducts.

  • Maximizing the use of recyclable materials and trying to maintain them to their original efficiency. We can use circular materials such as plastics, natural fibers or metals even if they lose their performance through recycling processes we still can

  • Reusing buildings structure and components to rebuild instead of adding new materials to the loop.

  • Designing flexible buildings for simple adaptation, deconstruction and reconstruction. Flexible designs allow for buildings to be reused for other uses and to have extensions added instead of complete deconstruction and new constructions.

All this makes it possible to reduce material needs in the first place and waste production at the end of the process. By reducing those two factors, the building construction sector potentially reduces the embodied carbon of the building, improves material transparency and reduces our impact on natural ecosystems.

The combination of the Life Cycle Analysis with a Circular Design approach

The next step for companies is not only rethinking the way of building through Circular Design but also to make sure their projects have a minimum impact on the environment over the entire period of its life.

In order to do that, buildings can be evaluated by a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) methodology that assesses its environmental impacts through its conception, manufacturing, use and end of life. By combining the circular economy principles with LCA methodologies, building stakeholders can measure the environmental performance of these projects and use this data to make valuable design choices. In fact, LCA generates tangible measurable proof that these buildings and their components have improved environmental footprints over their lifecycles and beyond.

The LCA process considers 6 key phases of the building cycle: material extraction, transportation, manufacturing, construction,