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Have You Ever Thought of Buildings as Material Banks?

12 January 2021

Every piece of structural steel, brick, wooden board or glass window has significant value. After a building has reached the end of its life course, however, most materials are not given a new life in other buildings. Think about this scenario: buildings that are constructed today, could actually become valuable resources in the future. They could become “banks for building materials”. Hopefully, a few years down the line, building demolitions will not leave behind materials classified as debris or scraps.


Written by Rita Tvede Bartolomei



A traditional demolition of a building creates vast amounts of useless waste, instead of new resources that could be utilised for other buildings. © Photo: Pixabay

According to the European Environment Agency, construction and demolition waste (C&DW) make up the largest waste stream in the EU in terms of mass (374 million tonnes in the EU-28 in 2016, excluding excavated soil). A high recovery rate is mainly achieved by using C&DW for backfilling and low-grade recovery applications.


Circularity needs to start long before buildings are planned or constructed and this is the ideal future: after production, materials should be categorised and given a “material passport” (an ID-number with a list of properties). All the important data about a building and its materials should then be systematically organised and accessed with the help of an advanced software platform for 3D-planning; BIM (Building Information Modelling). BIM-technology will make it easy to keep track of every piece of material, down to the smallest structural component.


Madaster is now by far the most well-known cloud-system for categorisation of materials in buildings. In Madaster, product and material data can be registered, enriched, shared and stored. Some major companies have already partnered with the company in 2020: EPEA Taiwan is working with Madaster on introducing a registration system for materials in Taiwan's construction sector. Also, the trade organisation for Dutch architectural firms (BNA), are now using material passports in Madaster to help them create more circular building designs.



The cloud system Madaster is becoming more and more recognised as an industry leader of material bank classification systems. ©  Photo: Madaster

One of the founders of Madaster, German architect, Thomas Rau, introduced the industry to many of the visions behind circular economy in the book "Material Matters" (co-written with Sabine Oberhuber in 2016).


Chairman of the Madaster Foundation, architect Thomas Rau, coined the term “waste is just material without an identity”. He wanted society to move towards circularity in order to reduce waste and use less virgin materials. ©  Photo: Madaster.


In the future, engineers and architects must work together innovatively to make sure they design a building where waste is eliminated at the drawing board. Clever and standardised design solutions will ensure that buildings (and all the materials they comprise of) sustain their value cradle-to-cradle. In effect, less raw materials need to be extracted from the earth, and less virgin materials will be used in a future new but “old” building.


Senior architect at the architectural firm TAG Arkitekter in Norway, Marko Todorovic, explains that design based on the circular model, is the key approach to sustainability for buildings: “In order to eliminate waste, architects and engineers have to shift their focus from just making more efficient products that have less negative environmental impact to developing regenerative and renewable systems where both components and materials can be recovered and reused. We need to work with more local materials, consider using longer lasting materials, reuse existing structures and make buildings that have flexibility with varying uses”, says Marko Todorovic. 



Senior architect at the architectural firm TAG Arkitekter in Norway, Marko Todorovic.  
©  Photo: TAG Arkitekter


But what is the EU currently doing to make the European building industry more circular? From 2015 to 2019, the EU Horizon 2020 project BAMB aimed to find ways to reduce waste and create more circularity in the building industry. The BAMB-pilot projects and methodologies actually proved that it is possible to reduce the rate of construction and demolition waste with more than 75 percent. Furthermore in March 2020, the European Commission adopted a new Circular Economy Action Plan, as part of the European Green Deal.

Have You Ever Thought of Buildings as Material Banks?
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