Reused and recycled buildings challenge wasteful construction status quo

(Clean Energy Wire, 2 Apr 2024) “Reuse and recycle” is a catchphrase most people associate with plastic bags or bottles. But our homes, schools and offices are also made with materials that are far too valuable and carbon-intensive for single use: They shouldn’t always be produced anew and then thrown away when buildings get demolished.

Applying circular economy principles to construction – keeping materials in use for as long as possible, then reuse them in the next project or recycle them – holds great promise for greening our buildings. To ensure this approach takes off in earnest, regulators need to play catch-up, and project developers must ditch old habits.

The CRCLR House in Berlin looks almost unfinished even though it was completed in 2022. There is no paint on the walls, which are a mix of timber, clay, hemp and what was left from the brewery that once stood there. Every joint is visible, as is the wiring running along the walls.

The idea behind the project: When, decades down the line, the time comes for the space to be changed to serve a different purpose, the building can be taken apart like a LEGO house, with the individual components retaining their original form and quality, ready to be used again.

As the name suggests, the co-working space was built following circularity principles. Around 70 percent of its materials were produced sustainably or were previously used elsewhere: from the bathroom sinks reclaimed from a camping site and timber from an art installation now converted into meeting booths to windows and fire safety doors.

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Clean Energy Wire, 2 Apr 2024: Reused and recycled buildings challenge wasteful construction status quo