Næste wants to change the construction industry’s view of recycled materials

To see what a more circular building could look like, let's take a look at secondary constructions. Circular design and construction specialists Næste demonstrate how sheds can be built on a large scale – exclusively using recycled building materials and waste from the primary construction sector. "The potential is enormous," says founder Niels Jakubiak Andersen.

20.05.2024
Photo: Darewhan Amin
Niels Jakubiak Andersen, founder of the design and construction company Næste.

Demolition experts Tscherning know how much good building materials go to waste every year. So when the company decided to expand its office space, it was only natural to think differently and creatively.

Employees and visitors can now see the result in the form of Tscherning’s renovated head office, which has been built using recycled materials, including a Troldtekt acoustic ceiling that has been preserved in the former industrial building.

The project has been nominated for the Danish Retrofit Award 2024 and includes two very special meeting rooms at Tscherning’s head office.

– "They're more like meeting sheds in the middle of the large open-plan office. They have primarily been created using materials from Tscherning's own demolitions, – for example timber, boards and bricks, but also discarded acoustic panels from Troldtekt, which have actually been used throughout the renovation project and not only in the meeting rooms," explains Niels Jakubiak Andersen, owner and CEO of design and construction company Næste.

Andersen was a partner in Krydsrum Arkitekter A/S when he decided to found Næste in 2018. The goal of the company was to change the way we consume our resources, design, build and collaborate in the construction industry. Nothing less.

With the help of partners such as Enemærke & Petersen, Lejerbo and Tscherning, as well as support from Realdania, the business case came into being by the company focusing on secondary construction. The partners joined forces to prove the potential of building sheds from waste resources that would otherwise have been incinerated for energy production or crushed.

Old sheds live on as unique meeting rooms at Tscherning's headquarters.

Low documentation requirements in secondary construction

Secondary buildings are waste and bicycle sheds, garages, carports, outbuildings, greenhouses, orangeries and similar unheated buildings. Næste chose to focus in particular on specialising in producing architect-designed shed solutions:



"Secondary construction has a lower threshold for documentation requirements for the properties of the materials, which means we can build with recycled materials. And that's necessary for us to be able to scale up recycling in the industry," explains Andersen.

If you think that the potential of secondary construction must be limited, think again.

– "You may be asking yourself whether sheds really matter that much, but we actually build 500,000 square metres of sheds in Denmark each year. That's a lot of new steel or wood currently being used for something of secondary importance. If we compare that with the fact that we have 400,000 tonnes of clean wood that ends up as construction waste each year, why do we burn it instead of using it to replace new resources in secondary construction?" asks Andersen.

He emphasises the fact that not all the 400,000 tonnes of wood are suitable for recycling, but even with a conservative estimate of just one quarter that can be recycled, that still gives 100,000 tonnes of wood for recycling – every year in Denmark alone.

– "So the reasoning is that we can scale up recycling in construction by incorporating recycled wood into secondary constructions and save the new resource-intensive materials for areas where they can make a bigger difference," he says.

Old wood is high quality

Andersen makes no bones about the fact that he and Næste have their work cut out raising awareness and challenging preconceptions in construction:

– "We face concerns that are important to take seriously. For example, whether the quality of building with recycled materials is high enough. What will society look like in the future if we build with waste? Doesn't sound too good, right? But the answer to such concerns is that it's all about where we use recycled materials and, specifically with recycled wood, the quality is actually higher than if we use new wood," he explains.

The fact that a lot of recycled wood is of high quality is linked to modern intensive wood production methods and the higher content of CO2 in the atmosphere:

– "Much of our recycled wood comes from a time when wood grew more slowly. This means it has a denser core structure than much of the new wood you can buy today. You can try to weigh an old piece of wood compared to a new piece of wood of the same size and feel the weight difference. The denser core structure means that it absorbs less moisture," he explains.



Unjustified supply concerns

While it's crucial for Andersen to convince his colleagues in the construction industry that building with recycled materials does not mean lower quality, he also often encounters concerns about the security of supply:

– "Any major builder considering building 50 sheds would probably wonder whether we could deliver on time and with consistently good quality. The answer lies in the 100,000 tonnes of waste wood suitable for recycling each year, as it could cover almost all of Denmark’s shed needs twice over," he says.

"Large demolition companies such as Tscherning, Kingo Karlsen and Søndergaard Nedrivning play a decisive role here," he adds.

– "It starts with demolition. The major demolition firms have now started to carry out selective demolition, – extracting materials in a way that allows them to be recycled. That gives us a supply chain from demolition to all those of us who purchase and use waste wood as a raw material," he says, adding that there will soon be legal requirements for selective demolition in 2024.

Ceilings with Troldtekt acoustic panels in office buildings
Tscherning's renovated headquarters have been nominated for the 2024 Danish Retrofit Award.

Doing away with the need for perfection

Andersen does not expect recycled wood and timber will necessarily find their way into primary construction. He points out that it will actually be sufficient to start with secondary construction, which could reduce most of the usable construction waste, without risking creating problems with a given indoor climate, etc.

He also points out that increased recycling of building materials will help to reduce a large proportion of the discarded materials from the industrial production of building materials, such as modifying wood to make it weather-resistant in the Danish climate.

– "80 per cent of rejections are due to visual imperfections that have no functional significance. A small colour difference, a few spots or the like that make it impossible to sell it because we're up against the demand for perfection. That’s why we have a mission to create an aesthetic that celebrates every little flaw. We celebrate differences and they remind us that we are not as perfect as we think," he says.

 

See more photos from the Tscherning House here

FACTS: About Næste ApS

  • Næste is a supplier of turnkey shed solutions for the professional property market and possesses its own architectural, engineering and carpentry expertise.
  • Næste’s products are FSC Recycled certified, which awards DGNB points for circularity and social responsibility. The company became B-Corp certified in 2023.
  • Næste works to promote behavioural changes in construction that lead to a more responsible use of resources and a more sustainable approach, including in relation to the inclusion of unskilled labour.
  • The aim is to demonstrate that recycling on an industrial scale with competitive products is possible in construction.
  • Næste sees the potential of the smallest buildings (secondary buildings) such as sheds and how they can play a major role in the transition to more sustainable building.
  • Næste collaborates with a number of major developers, demolition contractors and other suppliers of circular products on this agenda and has won the Building Sustainability Award in 2021 and Roskilde Municipality’s Climate Award in 2023