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Thinking circular: designing with the future in mind

05 Jun 2017

As part of our continued work on the circular economy in the built environment, BAM is holding a series of four workshops to engage with key members of our supply chain. We are discussing how we can create new opportunities for us, our suppliers and our clients and create positive impacts from the projects we deliver. Last week, we held our third workshop of the series, focussing on how design impacts product circularity. You can find more blogs about the earlier workshops here

The workshop kicked off with an enlightening presentation from Dan Epstein, Consultant Director of Sustainability at Useful Projects, who highlighted examples of where a circular economy is already working in other industries. One example is Vitsoe’s shelving unit, which is designed to be easily moved throughout the owner’s lifetime; or the app Peerby, which acts as a platform to allow neighbours to borrow things from each other – for example a power tool, tent or trailer. This avoids unnecessary purchases (and potentially waste) and increases the item’s utilisation rate. He then also talked about specific projects within the built environment, for example Old Oak Common, which is looking at material and waste flows over the lifecycle of a regeneration project. His talk brought up an interesting discussion about the challenge of designing buildings for standardisation (allowing a product to be easily recovered) against designing for flexibility (allowing a space to be changed and repurposed for a number of uses).

Thalia Kakolyri, Façade Engineer, from Arup followed up with a specific exploration of building design, focussing on façades. Arup is actively researching how materials in façades can be reused and recycled, including undertaking an ‘autopsy’ of a façade.  With a lifetime of 20-30 years, façades are not designed for material recovery and architectural glass is particularly difficult to recover and risky to recycle. Therefore, Arup plans to further investigate this topic, especially as so many high-rise commercial buildings install double-glazed façades.

A lunchtime tour of the King’s Cross development by Stephen Kellett, Project Manager (Environmental), from Argent highlighted real examples of historic well-designed buildings that have gone on to be reused and repurposed. For example Seven Pancras Square retained the 1860’s façade, while the 1851 Fish & Coal Buildings, which housed the clerks monitoring freight, is currently being refurbished by BAM. 

A lively debate about whether environmental specifications, standards and codes of practice are a help or hindrance to circular economy design followed in the afternoon. Thalia was joined by Laura Gilbert, Senior Interior Designer, from BAM Design and John Devaney, Standards Publishing Manager: Sustainability, from BSI to form the panel tackling how we should adapt standards to allow for more circular thinking.  

John described two new recently published standards which should assist the transition to a circular economy; ISO20400:2017 Sustainable procurement – Guidance and BS8001:2017 Framework for implementing the principles of the circular economy. It is an area BSI has been researching, and it has found that while there are more than 200 standards related to specific areas of waste prevention and resource management, there is no formal standard that defined or focused entirely on the circular economy. Although some argue that standards can act as a barrier to the circular economy, they should not be, and standards are often reviewed when strong concerns are raised that they are preventing progress. 

Laura has worked on many projects including the circular pavilion and she talked about some of the difficulties often faced by designers. The fact that there is no single, equalising environmental standard for products, but instead multiple environmental claims and counter-claims, can cause confusion. There is also the problem of the perceived sustainable price tag (sustainable products often can cost more upfront but offer life cycle cost benefits), and the issue of newly installed CAT A fit-outs not meeting new tenant requirements, so creating unnecessary waste. Finally the lack of planning at demolition phase often prevents recyclable material being recovered by relevant manufacturers.

From these discussions it was clear that design will play a significant role in the transition to a circular built environment – both in terms of the buildings and individual products themselves. However it will be crucial for this information to be communicated in synchronicity with changes of design, so the benefits can be realised.    


Julia Messenger is a Sustainability Advisor at BAM

To discuss opportunities about the circular economy further, contact us



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