ROCKWOOL in the circular building during London Design Festival

15 September 2016

The London Design Festival is an annual event held to celebrate and promote London as the design capital of the world.

The Circular Building, circularity

As part of this event, ROCKWOOL is exhibiting at The Circular Building: a prototype of the most advanced and reusable building yet. Taking place at the Building Centre, London, the event is open to the public from 18th-23rd September 2016.

Designed and delivered by Arup, Frener & Reifer and BAM, with support from The Built Environment Trust, ROCKWOOL and a number of other partners have contributed to test circular economy principles in the construction industry and its supply chain. The event also aims to help investigate how the circular economy can benefit the industry and the built environment.

Made from stone wool – a blend of naturally occurring volcanic diabase rock - ROCKWOOL insulation products are continually replenished from within the earth and is an innately sustainable product. Any uncontaminated ROCKWOOL waste or used products can be fully recycled at any ROCKWOOL recycling plant at the end of its life. This includes aluminium foil, glass tissue, glass scrim and steel wire netting. In total, ROCKWOOL stone wool insulation is approximately 97% recyclable.

“ROCKWOOL has invested heavily to ensure recycling is a core part of the business and is delighted to be involved in The Circular Building,” comments Victoria Hillman, Energy and Environment Manager at ROCKWOOL. “ROCKWOOL continues to lead the way in changing the industrial approach of ‘take, make, dispose’ to a more circular approach, where products are recycled, upcycled and reused.”

The Circular Building tests the maturity of circular economy thinking in the supply chain and examines what it means for building design. Can we design a building where, at the end of its life, all its components and materials can be re-used, re-manufactured or re-cycled? Asking this question profoundly alters design and construction priorities. Supplier engagement is critical, with both designers and suppliers challenged to think differently about materials and construction processes.

All partners embarked on this prototype to test the challenges that the industry faces when incorporating circular economy thinking. This includes the impacts on design, procurement, construction, operation and deconstruction of the building. Taking a life cycle approach is critical to achieving true circularity. This has prompted conversations between the designers, the contractors and the wider supply chain around ownership of assets and new business models.

“The circular economy provides an opportunity for all of us to rethink how we can create a future that values natural capital, improves humanity and leave a better world for future generations,” comments Simon Anson, Project Architect, Arup Associates, comments. “It challenges us to rethink how we live, own, design and build our communities, towns and cities. As designers, we need to explore this new future and show the possibilities of how to create a world that does not inhibit, yet improves quality of life for people while caring for the planet. The circular building is a small first step into this future”

Waste is material without information; at the end of a building’s life, materials cannot easily be re-used as key information, such as their chemical composition or strength, is not available. A Materials Database aims to solve this problem. Each material in The Circular Building comes with its own QR code containing the information required to allow re-use.

The Materials Database required input from the manufacturers as well as Arup’s designers and material experts. This has been created using a cloud-based platform from which data has been fed to both The Circular Building website and the BIM model. Both the website and the BIM model can be viewed via QR codes displayed inside The Circular Building.

Colin Tweedy, CEO at The Built Environment Trust, adds, "The building industry creates three times more waste than all UK households combined. This is simply unsustainable and is also bad for business and the economy, construction processes must change. The Built Environment Trust believes there are powerful social and economic reasons to change. With Circular Living and the Circular Building we hope to help inspire the public and the professions on how the reuse and regeneration of building materials can scale and lead to a revolution in how we build. We must see Government engage more in this process. The EU has pledged substantial investment in the area, we need the UK to pick up its commitment, too. If such an approach was widely adopted, vast amount of materials used in construction could be more easily re–purposed, driving economies and improving the environment”.

All the partners believe the circular economy can enable the industry to tackle the complex nature of the built environment through multidisciplinary working, and this can drive a shift towards more sustainable forms of value creation and economic growth.