Published December 15, 2023 | Version v1
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A Different Architectural Practice. Circular Design, Fabrication and Living with Biogenic and Reclaimed Materials

  • 1. Royal Danish Academy -
  • 2. ROR icon Royal Danish Academy – Architecture, Design, Conservation


The building industry’s transformative process towards a truly circular practice disrupts the guiding concepts of materials in architecture, engineering and construction: availability, predictability and longevity. The current ideal material is everlasting, maintenance-free, homogeneous and readily available. Engraved in industrial and regulatory frameworks, this thinking results in extremely wasteful and energy-intensive processes of material selection and homogenization. Reclaimed and bio-based materials follow a different logic because they are inherently heterogeneous and their maintenance, harvesting and processing requires foresight and long-term planning. These complexities can become opportunities for a different, more holistic and sustain-able modus operandi in the building industry if we shift our linear approaches in the design and fabrication of buildings to circular ones, which include data from supply and reclama-tion. What is necessary though is to leave behind the industrial logics of global uniformity, expressed in industry-wide norms and standards. Today we can understand material properties and behaviours on the level of individual pieces and utilize this information in adaptive digital design and fabrication processes. Non-destructive techniques like CT scanning provide means to gain a deep view into the geometry and composition of any piece of virgin or reclaimed biomaterial. Subsequent anal-ysis allows to predict the objects’ material properties and behaviours. We can take advan-tage of these insights in tailored digital design and fabrication processes and compose the individual elements into larger assemblies, so that their combined performances match the overall structural and other requirements. These processes demand that data follows, and is enriched along, the materials’ journey from harvest to production use and reuse. Such concepts promise a way out of the current crisis. The question is whether we can leave behind the comfort of silos and regulations and move to a more holistic and complex understanding.An awareness of temporal aspects is key to understanding and working with circular biomaterials. Being part of the biological cycle of life and death, they are poised to decay and become part of new life the moment they are harvested. So far efforts have concen-trated on extending their lifetime – often through the application of harmful chemicals – and we see materials as static objects under conservation. A different approach takes the temporality of materials into account in concepts for design, making and living with mater-ials in buildings. Design for disassembly, smart monitoring, repair and replacement allows buildings to adapt and renew and become better over time. This should go hand in hand with social considerations and a shift from considering aware and capable humans solely as occupants to engaging with them as empathic caretakers.



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ECO-METABOLISTIC-ARC – An Eco-Metabolistic Framework for Sustainable Architecture 101019693
European Commission