European Building Summit 2023

The right way to circularity in construction

Circularity is one of the challenges facing the construction sector. A concept that copies nature in all its processes, recycles any waste or material and creates an ecosystem of companies that regenerate all the materials that are rejected or generated in the constructive process.

But how is circularity applied in current construction systems? Are there tools that help to implement the circular economy in construction? What are the regulatory frameworks? These and many other issues were discussed at the European Bulding Summit, the Construction 4.0 Congress, which brought together international speakers on 24 and 25 May in Barcelona to accelerate the transformation of the sector and achieve sustainable, industrialised construction with a focus on renovation.

The director general of Green Building Council Spain (GBCe), Dolores Huerta, dedicated her speech to explaining the roadmap for the decarbonisation of building set by the European Commission. A regulation which in a few years’ time requires building and renovating in a circular way. Huerta defined that a circular building is one that “has been built with durable and non-toxic products and services; it has efficient and flexible spaces, is long-lasting, resilient and durable” and added that during its construction or deconstruction “it allows for its dismantling, assembly and recycling of materials, and furthermore, it is possible to assess the cost of the life cycle”.

No quality, no circularity

Ignasi Cubiñà of Construcía, in his speech ‘The (circular) prescription of construction systems’ spoke of the need to generate an ecosystem of companies that make circular products. For Cubiñà circularity is a biological concept, “we place circularity on a molecular scale, we need to create an ecosystem of artisan trades and this means that the products must be of quality, without quality there is no circularity.” He also added that in order to generate circularity there must be recycling of materials and that buildings have to be designed for next use. “Circularity is about social commitment throughout the value chain, respecting human rights and contributing to fair societies,” he concluded.

Luis Fernández, OCH-Offsite Construction Hub Spain, president of the Asociación Española de la Construcción Industrializada, assured the audience that another way of building is possible and, specifically, about the circular economy, he stated that “it has to be open and closed circle, the materials must be returned to the manufacturer to give them new use”.

Rehabilitation is circular

What does rehabilitation contribute to the circular economy? This was the title of the intervention of Ivan Madrigal from EOSZENIT energy. Madrigal argues that “Integral Energy Rehabilitation of buildings is circular because it is a global way of saving energy and materials”.

In this sense, Belen Palao in her speech ‘A Toolkit to make Circular Building: The Circular Building Toolkit’ stated that “the most sustainable thing is not to build, it is to rehabilitate”. Palao introduced the “Circular Building Toolkit” platform, an open and accessible tool for everyone to design structures, explore strategies for circular construction and be inspired by case studies that have applied the principles of circular design.

Following with rehabilitation cases, it was also possible listen to Antonio Meireles from ndBIM who dedicated his session to explaining rehabilitation interventions in Lisbon. And Cristian Salmeron from ELECNOR who showed a practical example of BIM-based refurbishment in the chane of use of a building.

Recop‘s technical architects Elena Pellicer and Teresa Arnal explained their experience in the rehabilitation of heritage buildings. To do this, they have needed a network of local artisans who work with wood, ceramics or forged, thus giving value to traditional techniques, using natural materials and recycling.

“ME” to “WE”

‘Building an Eco-quartier in Paris’, it was the example of circularity and good practices in construction shown by Miquel Lacasta de ArchiKubik. Lacasta and his team initiated this project in 2017 which involved the deconstruction of a building in the Cité Gagarine, France’s largest circular economy operation. Some 30,000 tonnes of materials were reintroduced into the construction circuit: 1,525 radiators, 2,242 gates, 52 concrete chimneys, 400 mailboxes and hundreds of linear meters of railings. The architect’s philosophy is based on a solidarity-based urbanism that uses the landscape as infrastructure and works for transitional urbanism, thinking collectively and moves from “ME” to “WE”.