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Want to Design for Circularity? Consider Your Buildings as Future Material Banks From the Start

Part of understanding circular design and designing for disassembly, two key components to the Built Positive movement, is embracing the idea of “Buildings as Material Banks.”

Looking at a building as a material bank turns our typical approach on its head. Currently, materials lose most of their value the moment they are installed in a building, simply because of how they are designed or manufactured. Most are not reusable or recyclable, and even those that are often are not accessible or are hastily thrown out anyway during the demolition process in order to keep the project under budget and on schedule.

What if we instead think of a buildings as temporary storage for safe materials that maintain their value and can be used again and again after the original building is no longer needed in its current configuration?

The Buildings as Material Banks (BAMB) project, is a Horizon 2020 project, initiated by the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA) and in partnership with 15 parties throughout Europe, is developing tools aimed at this fresh approach, including reversible design protocols and a platform that will provide the data necessary for active recovery of valuable building materials. Soon, architects will be able to leverage these tools to intentionally design circularity into their buildings.

For instance, EPEA is developing the “Materials Passport” to enable architects to select materials and systems that show the best circular value propositions. Not only in terms of financial value, but also in terms of assembly, connections, and occupant health. The platform functions as an enabler for reversible building design.

BAMB started partially because of the lack of focus on circularity under existing building programs. What is often missing is accurate knowledge about health and re-use aspects of materials applied in buildings. This knowledge sits at the chemistry level; the composition of a product defines if it’s safe for the user and the environment, and if it’s reusable or recyclable.

The Cradle to Cradle Certified™ product standard plays a key role in BAMB concepts, as products’ makeup has been assessed and chemicals of concern either identified or avoided altogether. Materials Passports are based on Cradle to Cradle and build up the knowledge from the material level, allowing an understanding on value—and ability—for recovery and reuse of products and materials. As such, Materials Passports will provide value propositions that create market incentives for circular building design and high level reuse and recycling.

The industry is already seeing examples of this approach in action. Venlo City Hall in the Netherlands, for example, was designed with disassembly, reuse, and recovery in mind. The design team asked for guaranteed takeback systems to help close the loop after the initial use phase of the building and also took into account residual value of certain products. For instance, they made an agreement of 18% residual value for the furniture. This equated to a savings of €300,000 for the city.

At the B/S/H building at Park 20|20 in Amsterdam, a Slimline building system, which combines the ceiling, hollow installation, and subfloor into one prefab panel, was chosen for its ability to be pulled apart and reconfigured as the building is redesigned down the road or, alternatively, disassembled for reuse on another project.

Read more about Venlo City Hall here and Park 20|20 here.

For followup questions about Materials Passports and BAMB, visit www.bamb2020.eu/ and www.epea.nl or contact Lars Luscere at luscuere@epea.com.

Pictured: B/S/H building at Park 20|20. Photo by Van der Torren Fotografie.