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Buildings as Material Banks: Integrating Materials Passports with Reversible Building Design to Optimise Circular Industrial Value Chains

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New integrated tools help the building sector move to a circular economy

Buildings constructed or refurbished with reversible design techniques create increased value in a sector where sustainability is under the spotlight. More value means less waste – the EU-funded BAMB project worked on ways to drive a systemic shift towards sustainable building.

Climate Change and Environment

The European built environment is responsible for a considerable amount of our energy consumption, total greenhouse gas emissions, resource extraction and waste production. One of the principal causes of this is poor building design, coupled with the traditional linear economic model of produce-use-dispose. With only one end-use in mind, following economic or social change, buildings often end up vacant. This in turn leads to demolition, or complex and expensive renovation or repurposing work, generating considerable waste. The EU-funded BAMB project fostered a paradigm shift where materials, components and buildings are evaluated and conceived by considering the requirements of effective circularity. This approach goes beyond the limited and linear life-cycle analysis approaches currently used in the tools and methodologies in the building sector.

Design protocol for flexible and transformable buildings

Project partners developed a Reversible Building Design Protocol that enables different stakeholders in the construction value chain to implement reversible design strategies and approaches in construction and refurbishing activities. At the core of this design approach are: transformation capacity – the ability to transform building spaces to meet new requirements; and reuse potential – the ability to reuse elements and components. Reversible Building Design enables resource efficient repair, reuse and recovery of building materials, products and components since different layers such as floors, windows, electric cords, ventilation, inner walls can be accessed without damaging other parts of the building and components can easily be removed or replaced. It can also be used to design flexible and easily transformable buildings.

Tool for circular building assessment

Project partners also developed a prototype Circular Building Assessment tool. The decision-making tool is built on a methodology for the assessment of new and existing buildings’ resource productivity, based upon material selection and design decisions. The methodology’s integration in a newly developed (BIM compatible) software platform could aid users in making better choices for circularity. The platform helps users to see the impact of alternative solutions, optimising performance measures like reuse potential and transformation capacity through the different phases of the building’s life cycle (design, construction, management & maintenance, refurbishing, dismantling).

Pilot experiences and feedback

In Brussels, a new module called ‘Build Reversible in Conception’ consisting of a wooden frame structure and prefabricated wall, floor and roof systems was built, dismantled, reconstructed and transformed two times. The sustainable and reversible teaching module is part of an education centre enabling teachers, students and construction product producers to investigate the implementation of circular economy and reversible building design principles in practice. On the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) campus, what once used to be a student house has now become the Circular Retrofit Lab. Eight student rooms were renovated using demountable, adaptable and reusable building solutions, creating as little demolition waste as possible. In Heerlen, Netherlands, the project consortium developed the Green Transformable Building Lab around a multifunctional and reversible steel frame filled with interchangeable, independent and reversible floor, façade and roof elements. The demonstrators proved that an existing structure can be transformed for a different function (for example, a dissemination space, a co-working space, and an eco-guesthouse) while aspiring for flexibility and circularity in the future. Also, the waste generated by changing functions of a building can be significantly reduced through the use of upgradable modular and exchangeable components. “Pilot projects and prototyping demonstrated the BAMB tools and methodologies can prevent 75-90 % of all waste generated and raw materials used over several building transformations,” concludes project coordinator Caroline Henrotay.


BAMB, value, waste, construction, material passports, reversible building design, circular building assessment, sustainable, circular economy

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