Credit: PopUp House

What if buildings were recyclable?

Posted on 13 April 2017.

Eco-design and recyclability: a new economic, social and environmental dynamic is underway in the building industry.

All driven by the same passion for designing architectural projects while preserving resources.

Has the era of "upcycled" buildings arrived? France has just introduced a "E+C-" label which sets a course for exemplary constructions by 2020. These positive energy buildings will also be low-carbon. The aim is "to establish a unique environmental standard for new buildings. For the first time ever anywhere in the world there is a standard for the building industry that combines both energy and greenhouse gas emissions requirements.”

More and more buildings are being built or rebuilt to include recyclability - like the Popup House. Lego-style rectangles, polystyrene insulation to protect against cold and noise combined with a wooden frame placed on stilts - the very simple principle behind the passive ecological house designed by an engineer from Marseilles, Corentin Thiercelin.

Because it is lightweight, it can be mounted without any heavy construction machinery, thereby making for a smaller carbon footprint. With no glue or binders needing lots of water and long drying times, it can be built in... a couple of weeks! But most importantly, thanks to the use of wood and low carbon footprint polystyrene (because it is 98% air), it can be completely dismantled and recycled.

Deconstruction architects

The idea of upcycling buildings is travelling fast. Called Rotor and founded in 2005 by Tristan Boniver and Maarten Gielen, the Belgian collective includes scenographers, architects, engineers and lawyers, all driven by the same passion of designing architectural projects taking a critical position on the use of resources.

In 2012, Rotor opened an online platform, called Opalis. It makes it possible to surf on the recovery market to source reused materials. Since then, the members of the collective have also become deconstruction architects. Partnering promoters, they sort, pack, and resell materials coming from end-of-life buildings.

C2C icon

Further north in Europe, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries have become cradle to cradle (C2C) pioneers as applied to construction sites. South-west of Amsterdam is home to the icon of recyclable buildings. People from the world over travel to Haarlemmermeer to see the Park 20/20 project - led by the American architect William McDonough.

The C2C co-inventor designed 89,000 m2 of offices exclusively around the concept of reuse: from the structure to the interior finishes, from the recycling potential of the wastewater to the use of biodegradable materials.

Behind this exemplary project is a project owner unlike any other - the Dutch real estate investor Delta Development. It aims to build sustainable value by banning toxic substances from buildings, both for the benefit of the environment and for the health of the occupants. It also aims to design buildings that can be dismantled using materials that can be indefinitely recycled.