Architecture in the Circular Economy


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Illustration by 3XN

The Danish architectural firm 3XN is the architects behind the coming Quay Quarter Tower. The design incorporates and recycles 2/3 of the existing building on the site.


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A concrete element that is designed for disassembly. The mechanical joints optimises the possibilities of recycling, and thereby be part of a circular economy.


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Inspection of a construction site to find ways of incorporating the 'design-for-disassembly'-mindset.


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'Building a Circular Future' is a book created by GXN and other contributors as an open source project in order to have as many stakeholders on board the project.


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'Design for disassembly' is one of the cornerstones in circular economy, when applied to the building industry.


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Architect Kasper Guldager Jensen, Head of the green think tank GXN at Danish architectural firm 3XN.


The principles of creating a circular economy in the building industry is here to stay. Kasper Guldager Jensen is the Head of GXN, the in-house green think tank of Danish architectural firm 3XN that constantly seeks to find new ways of designing, and ultimately, building greener.

When most products and buildings come to life, they have a certain lifespan before they end up in a landfill or dumpsite. In effect, a linear life pattern, where there’s one starting point and one end station. However, in a circular economy, you seek to bend that line into a circular ecosystem, so that the different elements from worn-out products or decommissioned buildings can breathe life into new products or buildings.

“Today, a building truly becomes a material graveyard by the end of its life. We simply
 do not consider how to take a building’s superstructure apart, and we do not know
 yet how to put value to all the resources that get lost when doing so. But what if, when deconstructing a building, we could learn from all the precision the industry put into constructing it?”, Head of 3XN’s green think tank, Kasper Guldager Jensen, asks rhetorically.

The circular mindset is about creating value regarding a sustainable aspect or an economic aspect as well as a social aspect. Guldager Jensen and his team focus on flexible buildings that are easier to maintain and keep going.

According to him, we should be more productive from day one; for instance, by utilising the principles of the circular economy in the building industry. Circular building must create value and be attentive, productive and provide an almost instant pay-off. If you deal with it from a technical point of view, focusing on the positive long-term effects of building, then no one will seize the agenda, Guldager believes.

“Everyone will recognise circular building principles when it’s the best solution on all levels”, he states.

At GXN, they use three different components in the circular building process:

·      Design for disassembly: How to design a building so that the single elements can be disassembled without damaging them.

·      Material passport: A precise description of the materials comprising a specific building element.

·      Circular economy description: A thorough description of how the building element can be recycled in a circular context.

“‘Design for disassembly’ is a cornerstone of the circular economy because it allows 
the different components to fit into a closed material cycle, where they can be reused, reassembled and recycled to new products of similar or higher quality. The material passport is a convenient way of keeping track of the materials used, while the description of the circular economy is a way of litmus testing a concept”, Guldager explains and continues:

“The hardest part of introducing the circular mindset in the building industry is to change different stakeholders’ habits of the ways things usually run. ‘We usually do it like this needs to be removed from their glossary.”

At 3XN, they are about to link the values that are created through circular building, so the picture of the upsides stands out clearer. Previously, building sustainable (which is part of building circular) related to waiving certain goods, but where you almost sacrificed comfort, quality, i.e. to become sustainable. Today, the sustainable part together with the rest of the circular mindset creates solutions that are the most sought-after solutions on multiple levels.

Read: ‘Making a High-rise Feel Like a Low-rise’

“We are in the middle of creating a high-rise in Sydney (ed. Quay Quarter Tower), where we are upcycling the existing high-rise by reusing 98% of the original bearing construction. At the same time, we are adding and enhancing the architecture in a way that is more up-to-date. It’s value creation through flexible design solutions that, for example, let the different flooring compositions be altered to make room for different types of company needs. The building adapts to its residents, you can say. That’s circular building at its best”, Guldager ends.

Read more about 3XN’s work on circular economy in the building industry by visiting

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