How can designers and architects wipe out waste and dramatically reduce carbon emissions?
Wipe out waste: MAD Architecture employs radical circularity
The construction industry has an enormous environmentally impacting waste problem. The question is how can designers and architects wipe out waste and dramatically reduce carbon emissions?
MAD Architecture’s Åshild Wangensteen Bjørvik explained how they tackled the process of building KA13 and told us how she and her team did it.
Circularity and reuse in buildings
Over the last decades, the building industry has changed radically to make more sustainable buildings. Oslo’s KA13 ground-breaking project by MAD Architecture was used to explain the practice of circularity. A contemporary office building in the centre of Oslo from the 1950s is designed and built with 80% materials. They use “donor-buildings” materials that were headed to the landfill and transplanted them into the design and construction of a new office building.
Many buildings in this area were demolished and this one was marked to be demolished as well. Saving this building had its challenges, but it was decided to utilise the site in the best possible way and potential was seen in the building as is. The building had nice and high-quality interior ideal for office spaces and then decided to preserve the building structure.
The project is Norway’s first of its kind and puts reused building materials on centre stage: A wooden railing from an old public swimming pool is transplanted as a new staircase. A ceiling grate from a motor room is revamped into an atrium railing. Lumber from a sauna becomes a ceiling. Tiles, hidden for ages, shine again.
Material flow in KA13
Kristian Augusts Gate 13 (KA13) is largely created from elements that would otherwise have been thrown away. The reuse of building materials and circular solutions have been used on a larger scale and thus the amount of waste has been drastically reduced, both through the reuse of the existing building and using materials from demolition projects. In addition, the preservation and further development of existing buildings and urban spaces are valuable for the cities’ identity and history.
The focus of material flow was to:
Import healthy materials and reuse if possible
Local reuse of materials and to preserve the existing building with its old components and materials; reuse materials from other buildings that was set for demolision
Export harmful materials all handled correctly and sll healthy materials for reuse
No marketplace for large-scale components
One of the main challenges was how to find reusable materials. They had to create their own network and K13 materials come from more than 25 different sites, mostly in Oslo as there was no marketplace for buying and selling reused building components in Norway and they created their own network. Today there are digital and physical marketplaces in Norway under development and expansion. Components that were reused include panels, ceiling tiles, doors, pipes, sanitary appliances, grating panels, flooring, windows, steel construction, bricks, hollow core slabs, reusable partition walls, ventilation, and radiators.
Challenges faced by the architects
There were several challenges such as engineering, logistics, and cost but it has shown that the reuse of structural elements is possible. This building, in a country such as Norway with some of the strictest building regulations in the world, shows that the reuse of structural elements is feasible.
The hollow-core slabs resulted in an 89% of emission reduction than previously. About 70% of the steel structures are reused steel that was bolted together rather than welded to facilitate deconstruction.
Bricks and reused steel were used to construct the firewalls, where the norm is to use concrete. This resulted in a functional and decorative wall. Windows were adjusted to the new project. Recycled Façade panels were sourced from different buildings, trimmed to smaller sizes and mounted diagonally. The metal panels were painted on the backside because it was easier.
Bathroom tiles are surplus materials from collections that have expired and have been redesigned and restyled by the interior architects on site. The result is refreshing and unique.
Highly skilled craftsmen employed for this project
Highly skilled craftsmen were needed for many of the challenges such as the wooden handrails were sculpted for stairs in the amphitheater. Old steel grating panels were used as railings. New elements were used but they had to be made from healthy materials such as the flexible partition walls, made from local timber, a circular alternative to normal partition walls.
Acoustic elements, such as reused textiles were used for interior design.
Strict national regulations to be followed
Norway has very strict building codes and regulations to adhere to and all materials need accreditation. They have national building codes that require materials must have adequate certification. Preserving the existing building and adding the new extension and the reuse of materials ensured an enormous positive environmental impact. Results concluded that 70% fewer emissions compared to conventional buildings.
This project changed the way they work and will use the same concepts in future projects.
Establishing the practice of reuse
Reused materials have been used for thousands of years but it seems it became a forgotten practice. In recent times buildings were built with the minimum materials. But, with transformation comes unpredictability, so architects and consultants need more responsibility to create new solutions and innovations.
If a market can be established for reused building materials, people will be able to find and use a lot of new and different but reused materials. People must adapt to a new mindset to rather reuse materials than buy new materials.
Healthy Materials Lab is a design-led research lab at Parsons School of Design in New York City. They are dedicated to placing people’s health at the centre of all design decisions. In practice, it means that they raise awareness about toxins in the built environment and work to make healthy alternatives more accessible and popular.
Circular City Week
Circular City Week is an open collaborative festival that took place in New York from 2-8 May 2022. Activities emphasised how circular practices such as reuse, recycling and upcycling are transforming industries and the city.