Tomorrow’s buildings must be designed for disassembly

Construction must change from a linear to a circular approach, in which more materials are reused at the highest possible value level. This is the view of Kasper Guldager Jensen, founder of GXN and member of the Danish government’s Advisory Board for the circular economy.

Kasper Guldager Jensen

If the mission is to succeed, it will require a new aesthetic approach and circular building regulations that make it possible to harvest and reuse materials from existing buildings.   

We need to rethink our approach to reuse and recycling if we want to get the most out of the resources used to produce building materials. This can be achieved, for example, by retaining the materials in buildings rather than recycling or discarding them, according to Kasper Guldager Jensen. He is the founder of 3XN arkitekter’s innovation company, GXN, which specialises in developing and implementing sustainable architecture and design solutions. He is also a member of the Danish government’s Advisory Board for the circular economy.

 “Replacing materials at component level and re-using them offers better value than recycling the material flows by demolishing and remelting. But it will require a greater focus on systems and joining methods, so that buildings are designed to be disassembled again,” says Kasper Guldager Jensen.

Small circles

The circular approach Kasper Guldager Jensen is referring to is described in the ‘butterfly diagram’ from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The diagram illustrates how resource consumption can be optimised by designing with recycling and redistribution more closely in mind. Products and components must remain in circulation for as long as possible, and the focus must be to preserve value rather than to recycle as large a volume as possible.

The smallest circles in the diagram focus on repair and maintenance, and these are the most important. The circle must be ‘kept as small as possible’. It is better to keep the material in use by maintaining it rather than replacing it. And it is better to recycle a whole component rather than to break it down in order to reuse it,” says Kasper Guldager Jensen.

Circular building regulations

This mindset permeates the 27 recommendations Kasper Guldager Jensen and his colleagues in the Danish government’s Advisory Board submitted to the government on 7 June 2017. The recommendations include the establishment of circular building regulations, such that new construction projects are required to provide information on the materials used and the possibilities for recycling. The development of a standardised building passport is also recommended, to provide a readily available overview of all the materials used in the building.

“When a building reaches the end of its service life and needs to be demolished, great value will be lost if we do not know about the materials and any problematic substances they contain. We need to be better at creating an overview of what buildings contain, so that they can serve as material stores where we can harvest and reuse building parts,” says Kasper Guldager Jensen.


Fewer silicone joins

The vision of buildings that can be disassembled into major components after use will require a break with silicone, sealant and adhesive. More bolts and fittings will have to be used instead, so that the mechanical joins become more visible. This means architects will have to think in new circular aesthetics when designing tomorrow’s sustainable buildings.

“Architects will have to design buildings that are both sustainable and beautiful. And knowledge of materials and construction will have to be applied across the construction project, so that the architects know how the demolition team and facility manager work. It is not just common sense, but also good economics, because it creates demand for new products and business models,” says Kasper Guldager Jensen.

“It is interesting to see how companies like Troldtekt are already working strategically to manage materials, chemicals and installation,” says Kasper Guldager Jensen. 

FACTS: Advisory Board for the circular economy

  • The Advisory Board for the circular economy was appointed in October 2016 and comprises 12 business leaders.
  • The Advisory Board has been tasked with making recommendations for how to best support the transition of Danish businesses to a circular economy.
  • The 27 recommendations were submitted to the Danish Minister for the Environment and Food, Esben Lunde Larsen, and the Danish Minister for Industry, Business and Financial Affairs, Brian Mikkelsen, on 7 June 2017.
  • The proposed recommendations are ‘comply-or-explain’ recommendations. This means that the government must either follow the recommendations, or explain why they have chosen not to.