Arup introduces recyclable house to shift construction to circular economy

Architecture consultancy Arup has unveiled its Circular Building – a futuristic vision of construction in the world of scarce resources and perfect sustainability.

The prototype, erected outside the Building Centre as part of the London Design Festival is made of components that are completely non-toxic, mostly natural and easily recyclable or upcyclable. Similarly to children’s kit of parts, the whole structure is made of pre-fabricated elements that can be easily taken apart and used to build another, different, house somewhere else.

Arup hopes the project will launch a discussion within the construction industry about more sustainable approaches to how things are being done and an eventual shift to the so called circular economy – an approach where resources are used over and over again and nothing ever goes to waste.

“We live in the world where we don’t make the best use of the resources that are available to us,” explained Josef Hargrave, Arup Associate and Global Foresight Manager. “The construction sector still has far too many negative impacts on the environment. So we need to start to rethink how our industry works and how we can become sustainable in a much more holistic and integrated way.”

Today, when a building reaches the end of its designed life-span, or is no longer of use, it's simply demolished. All that remains is a pile of useless rubble. But the Circular Building prototype attempts to prove that this is just a result of the way architects and builders think about their products.

“The circular economy is really about rethinking the value chain, rethinking the supply chain so that we can keep resources at the highest possible value and make the best of their use throughout the life cycle,” said Hargrave.

The Arup team spent months puzzling over the challenges ahead. For their prototype, which is close to a passive house standard in terms of energy consumption, they chose a steel frame – made from offcuts from another construction project. On the outside the house is covered with wooden planks while the interior is covered with custom-designed boards made from wheat waste. The boards fit into each other like pieces of a puzzle and hold together by the sheer power of compression.

“One of the ambitions of the project is that we can deconstruct the house, demount it and send its components back to the manufacturing chain,” explained Simon Anson, Arup Project Architect. “And for that to happen, we really had to think about how we bolt things together. The industry usually uses a lot of adhesives, a lot of nailing together. For this project we made sure that we screw and bolt things together. We used a unique system to actually clamp elements of the building together so that we can take it apart and put it on the back of a truck and send it off to its next life.”

Blue wall-papers, decorating the sitting area, are partly made from recycled PET bottles. The the carpet has also been recycled.

“The challenge to us and the challenge to the industry is to create materials that are non-toxic that produce non-hazardous chemicals, so when they can be remanufactured it is a lot of easier, we don’t have any chemical by-products,” said Anson. “Our aim and question to the suppliers was to try and source materials that can either be upcycled from other projects in a non-toxic way or can be recycled back into the manufacturing stream in a non-toxic way.”

The prototype’s interior has a rustic feel, but the simplicity is just an illusion. The house is extremely smart, riddled with sensors that take care of the occupants comfort but also keep energy use in check. It features a mechanical ventilation system, made of recycled plastic bottles. All the systems in the house are powered with direct current from a battery located outside the house.



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