Circular economy in urban design: sustainability and community involvement

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Circular economy in urban design: sustainability and community involvement

Schoonschip by Space&Matter. Image © Isabel Nabuurs

While the circular economy is often discussed in relation to the architectural object through the prism of material recycling, design for disassembly, and material passports, the framework is most fully implemented at the scale of the neighborhood and city. From visions of circular communities that suggest some level of self-sufficiency to policies implemented by cities, city-scale projects exemplify the guiding principles of the circular economy, providing insight into what a fully-fledged version of it might look like. The following explores the strategies used in circular urban environments, from architecture and building materials to energy generation, waste management and food production, and the processes and operations that govern these designs, giving insight into the conditions that inform circularity.

rototype for Circular Economy Village in Australia.  Image © Atelier Valentino GareriWhite Arkitekter + ReGen Villages create the first circular, self-sufficient communities for Sweden.  Image courtesy of White ArkitekterTaisugar Circular Village by Bio-architecture Formosana.  Image © Studio MillspaceSchoonschip by Space&Matter.  Image © Alan Jensen+ 6

The circular economy is usually reduced to the 3Rs -Reduce-Reuse-Recycle, the concept is much more complex, presenting multiple ramifications that involve paradigm shifts in the way urban environments are designed. Cities are centers of resource consumption and major producers of greenhouse gas emissions. The dominant economic model is linear and results in the extraction of raw materials to manufacture components which are then used and end up as waste at the end of their life cycle. The demand for raw materials is expected to double by 2050. Urban communities are central to the development of circular economy models. It is essential to analyze the urban structure as a whole.

In 2020, the EU published an action plan for the circular economy, one of the essential elements for the implementation of the Green New Deal. The strategy involves designing sustainable products, reducing waste and creating a European market for secondary materials, among other steps. The plan outlines the possible introduction of recycled content requirements for certain building products, a significant paradigm shift for building codes for the construction industry. In addition, the EU seeks to promote initiatives aimed at reducing soil sealing and rehabilitating abandoned or contaminated brownfield sites.


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Schoonschip by Space&Matter.  Image courtesy of Space and Matter
Schoonschip by Space&Matter. Image courtesy of Space and Matter

Cities are already at the forefront of efforts to combat climate change and lay the foundations for a circular economy, thereby enabling various climate change mitigation opportunities. Developing circular economy strategies requires creating a holistic understanding of how a city manages its resources, its waste patterns, and engaging private actors to become partners in a new local economic framework.

The city of Prague is a pioneer in the establishment of a local circular economy. In 2019, the city, together with the Amsterdam-based organization Circle Economy, analyzed local material flows and carbon emissions in relation to the local economy to identify key industries where sustainable practices circular economy could be introduced. The resulting action plan has resulted in the creation of a network of reuse points that deal with discarded items such as appliances and furniture, collection of household food waste that is converted into biogas and the implementation of circular farming principles on farmland around the city.

White Arkitekter + ReGen Villages create the first circular, self-sufficient communities for Sweden.  Image courtesy of White Arkitekter
White Arkitekter + ReGen Villages create the first circular, self-sufficient communities for Sweden. Image courtesy of White Arkitekter

In addition to policies regulating resources, products and waste management, at the urban planning level there is a strong emphasis on self-sufficiency in terms of energy and food production, as well as an increased concern for the environment. community involvement. Space&Matter, an Amsterdam-based firm, has successfully implemented circular economy principles at neighborhood level, capitalizing on participatory processes. In its quest for future-proof urban environments, the architectural firm created a project development company that would enable a co-creation process involving citizens and end users. For practice, involving people in the design and governance of their communities is one of the key steps in developing a circular economy.

Schoonschip by Space&Matter.  Image © Alan Jensen
Schoonschip by Space&Matter. Image © Alan Jensen

One of the company’s most notable projects is Schoonschip, an innovative circular Amsterdam neighborhood and community project. Home to over 100 residents, the project includes decentralized and sustainable energy, water and waste systems. A smart network of solar panels helps residents exchange energy with each other while water treatment technologies recover energy and nutrients from wastewater. The association of co-owners wished to share the information accumulated during the development of the project; therefore, the project is open source. The knowledge needed to create the residential development has been compiled on a website detailing various aspects, from materials to food production to legalities.

Taisugar Circular Village by Bio-architecture Formosana.  Image © Studio Millspace
Taisugar Circular Village by Bio-architecture Formosana. Image © Studio Millspace

For the Taisugar Circular Village in Taiwan, design studio Bio-architecture Formosana focused on modularity to streamline assembly and disassembly and simplify the material bank database. The project includes renewable energy systems, shared equipment and a series of food production systems, including aquaponics. sAt the same time, the project implements the product-as-a-service model, with the elevator, lighting, furniture and toilets being leased instead of purchased. Turning to rural landscapes, Valentino Gareri Architects designed the pilot project of a circular economy village model. Like a garden city, the concept envisions communities of up to 200 people, featuring co-working and co-living spaces with water and energy micro-grids and a regenerative agricultural system. The project will also convert inorganic materials into new products or other resources, similar to the reuse points in Prague.

rototype for Circular Economy Village in Australia.  Image © Atelier Valentino Gareri
rototype for Circular Economy Village in Australia. Image © Atelier Valentino Gareri

The transition to a fully circular economy is a complex multi-step process, mostly policy-driven. However, as these few examples illustrate, architects, urban planners and communities can take the initiative to translate the circular framework to the scale of urban development, through interventions that not only contribute to forging the vision of circular economy but advance knowledge in the field. .

This article is part of ArchDaily Topics: The Road to Net Zero Architecture presented by Randers Tegl.

Randers Tegl aims to take responsibility and think sustainable as part of achieving Net Zero. Both in terms of the impact of building materials on the climate and the aging of materials, but also with a focus on architecture. This is why Randers Tegl has created its durable GREENER series, which comes with extensive documentation in the form of EPDs, so that it is possible to use the product in engineering calculation programs.

Each month we explore a topic in depth through articles, interviews, news and projects. Learn more about our ArchDaily topics. As always, at ArchDaily, we welcome contributions from our readers; if you want to submit an article or a project, contact us.

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