Circular construction in response to resource scarcity

december 8, 2019

The term ‘circular’ seems to be well established in the construction industry. The core concept is the infinite reuse of materials. In October, Brightlands showcased this topic at the Expo Real in Munich. At the Brightlands Smart Services Campus in Heerlen, Re-Use is one of the frontrunners when it comes to demolition waste and circularity. At the Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Geleen, consultancy firm Huygen Installatie Adviseurs focuses on this theme. Talking to Ana Tisov (picture), project leader at Huygen: "It's about a different way of thinking, about more cooperation and especially about looking far into the future."

This year, engineering and consultancy firm Huygen moved into one of the new Brighthouses on the Geleen campus. "A logical choice for us," says Eric Willems, a technical physicist by origin and one of the consultants and researchers at Huygen. We consistently invest in research, which is why we feel at home on a campus that is centralized around collaboration between companies, researchers and education. We want to be at the forefront of the latest developments; you can't do that just by yourself. "Sharing knowledge with others is one of the conditions.”

Ana Tisov.jpg

Circular construction

Three years ago, Ana Tisov joined the research team at Huygen, the firm that also has a branch in Utrecht. Slovenian-born Ana studied Civil Engineering in her home country, completed a master's degree in Architectural Engineering in Denmark and moved to Limburg to devote herself to certain special themes such as the influence of buildings on people's health and circular construction. "This is a growing trend,” she says. “And a logical one, as materials are becoming increasingly scarce and construction is a major consumer. More than half of all raw materials used in the Netherlands are used in construction. 

At the same time, construction creates large waste streams, also during renovation and demolition. Fortunately, a lot of material is already being recycled. But even so, we are still a long way from circular construction, which requires an integrated approach, a different way of thinking, seeing waste as a source of value. We also aim to construct buildings using less energy, being less harmful to the environment, and focusing on the long term. We need to think more about the materials we use."


So, we should use materials that can be reused in all kinds of components? "Yes, but in principle, you should construct buildings that are not only long-lasting but also flexible. Take the two newly built Brighthouses here in Geleen, for instance. These are suitable as office space, but with some simple adjustments, they can also be used as labs, or to house production equipment. In my view, a building that can adapt to the changes of the times is a circular one."
A tenable assertion, but what can an installation consultancy firm such as Huygen do? “We have many options,” says Eric Willems. "Modular and future-proof construction requires adapted installations, such as heat and cold generation that can be easily expanded or adjusted, customized mobile climate installations. And of course, you look at the installation of pipes and cables, modular walls, connecting to new energy supplies. A building is also part of its surroundings. Everything is linked together, including the technology.”


Circular construction is much more than recycling materials, that much is clear. Ana Tisov: “Actual circular construction requires a change all along the chain. Client, architect, suppliers, contractors and users; the renewed collaboration between all parties is a necessity. We haven't reached that point yet. Look at renovations. Unfortunately, demolition and rebuilding are often cheaper and faster than renovation.


Reuse is often more expensive than buying new materials. For example: disassembling a radiator, cleaning it, spraying it, making it usable, and then reassembling it again is very labor-intensive. There is also a risk. If you've always filled a radiator with deoxygenated water, it's fine. But if that's not the case, and you start emptying the radiator, allowing it to come into contact with oxygen, rust can occur, months after the re-installation. Another reason for choosing new things rather than used.”

This means that valuable materials are lost. “The government should be allowed to play a more active role, with rules and incentives or other stimuli, such as an expensive demolition permit, a ban on waste disposal or higher VAT on new materials. We still often notice that the price is ultimately decisive. Financiers also often make decisions based on a short-term risk analysis. Circular construction usually leads to higher costs in the short term, but money is earned in the longer term. With circular construction, you look at least twenty years ahead. "


European project

There are some hopeful initiatives for circular building. For instance, Ana Tisov is the initiator, on behalf of Huygen, of the Drive0 project, funded by the European Horizon2020 program. The goal of Drive0 is to accelerate the circular renovation process. "Companies and research institutions from seven European countries will be working on an approach to the circular renovation of buildings," Ana explains.

“With the reuse of materials, local resources, sustainable energy, and with a long-term focus, which fits in with the idea that we are transforming from a linear to a circular economy, where we stop throwing things away and start cherishing existing buildings. We believe that collaboration is the key to developing successful technical and business-savvy circular renovation concepts."

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