Architecture in the circular economy. How to design in a circular way
As we explained in the previous article, the sustainable architecture of the future goes through the application of the circular economy concepts to achieve buildings adaptable to the environment and with “Positive Impact”, that is, not only consume less or produce less waste, but also imply positive effects on its occupants. But the million dollar question is:
Is it possible to design a building in which all its components and materials can be reused, remanufactured or recycled at the end of its life cycle?
It will take time, but if certain criteria are taken into account, yes, it is possible. In addition, European legislative trends and the shortage of some materials will lead us to it.
How can we do it?
First of all, we have to change the focus. Traditionally, architects design integrating as many elements and restrictions as possible and treat the building as a whole. The “circular” approach proposes a “systemic” approach, that is, designing by means of functional systems, taking into account the modularity and adaptability of the different components and considering the change of needs throughout the life cycle of the building. This allows to treat each particular problem from different points of view, creating in turn new possibilities of use and reuse.
This concept of functional systems has already been applied in the design of more complex products such as cars, airplanes, etc. Organizations like NASA have been using it for decades. It is true that these sectors progress much faster than the construction processes, but this approach allows the different systems to gradually adapt to the changes without affecting the rest.
What are these systems?
To establish them, we must rescue the concept of Shearing Layers elaborated by Steward Brand, which organizes the buildings in layers called Site Structure, Skin, Services, Space Plan and Stuff. The life cycle of each one of them varies from one day to 300 years, so it is clear that they can not be treated in the same way. But we must not forget that the design of these functional systems must be coordinated to reach an optimal and satisfactory result.
What are the criteria to take into account?
The design criteria are many and varied. There is not yet a perfectly “circular” building, although there are some good examples such as The Circular Building of ARUP. However, some issues should be considered when applying circular economy to architecture, such as the use of materials with the possibility of reuse, refabrication or recycling at the end of their life cycle; their rent as an alternative to purchase; and dry manufacturing in workshop with mechanical assemblies instead of adhesives on site to facilitate disassembly. Likewise, the use of modular and flexible equipment and the connection of buildings to the Internet and big data should be considered to update and reuse building utilities.
Vídeo: Buildings at Arup
In summary, the “circular” design looks for buildings capable of easily adapting to the user’s needs , using durable materials that are easy to maintain, repair and disassemble.