Recycling and reuse of materials in design and architecture

by | Aug 31, 2020 | Architecture, Building, Design, Ecofriendly, R3Dstudio, Recycling, Trends | 0 comments

Among the many lessons that a health crisis like the one produced by Covid-19 leaves us, one of them without a doubt, is to modify many actions (behaviors) that have been damaging our home, planet Earth, and us as humanity. Pollution, whether directly or indirectly caused by us, is one of those behaviors that we must eradicate now.

It is known that architecture, design, and construction are areas where a large amount of resources are consumed, and an infinity of waste is generated. In this process, the most damaged resource without a doubt is the tree, vital for human existence. That is why these industries must create strategies and use resources that reduce the high rate of environmental impact they generate.

Statistical data from recent years indicate that only in the European Union the construction sector generated 36% of CO2 emissions, used 60% in raw materials, and generated large amounts of solid waste. These data show the global environmental impact of architecture and design.

Public health building in France run by the Atelier du Pont (Photo by Takuji Shimmura)

One way not to generate this negative impact on our environment is to use a common method of promoting recycling in architecture: the transformation of existing homes. To achieve this, it is not only necessary to consider the physical reality of the property, but also its social context. Recycling thus becomes an opportunity to increase the well-being of the inhabitants of a city while respecting the natural ecosystem in which they live. This transformation can be done both in residential buildings and in others that had a different use.

Architectural recycling has been practiced since the Middle Ages and since then a way has been sought to improve the living conditions of the already built city, which suffered some change or deterioration caused by conquests, battles and wars, where it was common to seize and occupy enemy’s buildings, changing the uses of its buildings according to the political or religious position of the occupants.

SuperBlock of San Antoni in Barcelona – Spain (Fuente Del Río Bani)

In order for the architectural recycling in existing buildings to be carried out with a criterion of environmental sustainability, the Spanish architect Eva Chacón Linares in her book “The recycling of the collective social habitat: Strategies and Technologies” (2013) indicates a series of principles to take into account to have a vision with responsibility before the ecosystem that surrounds the building:

– Reuse existing buildings ensuring their durability and integration with the new architecture.

– Introduce materials, products, and technologies of high durability; adapt them to the qualities of the place in terms of climate and orientation and provide them with energy autonomy.

– Close the cycles of reconstruction and demolition waste (RCD) generated, enabling their recycling.

– Seek a responsible treatment of the water cycle.

– Integrate new buildings into the ecosystem by introducing supports for plant and animal species and regenerating existing ones.

A more recent way of not causing much environmental pollution in the world of architecture and design is by using recycled materials that are obtained from the reuse of waste, and happily it is something that humanity is learning. As the Colombian architect and writer Alejandro Bahamón would say in one of his books: “The fact of handling waste and also using ingenuity to turn it into something useful and beautiful, is very innovative and almost daring according to certain social conventions.”

But to be clear about things we must establish a clear difference between what is recycling and the reuse of materials (waste). We understand recycling as “reprocessing of waste materials when it is carried out as a production process in order to use those materials for the same purposes as those originally intended or for other purposes, except for the energy recovery ”(because energy has already been used in that process). While the reuse of materials does not need that process and can be used in the way it was discarded. But despite the higher energy expenditure incurred in recycling, when compared to reusing waste the treatment process of the former can present a good cost-benefit ratio compared to the use of common materials.

These two processes are part of a new way of looking at design in general called cyclical design that refines the concept and no longer treats it as an economic activity of consumption of finite resources, but as one that designs and regenerates materials and products based on their own waste, safeguarding the environment. Cyclical design is included in what is known as ecological design or eco-design, a trend that tries to reduce the negative environmental impact throughout the life cycle of a product or service without undermining their quality; Its objective is to reduce environmental pollution and the consumption of water, raw materials and energy.

The New Raw’s Print Your City project (Photo by Stefanos Tsakiris)

The Portuguese architect and urban planner Eduardo Sousa de Moura, winner of the 2011 Pritzker Prize, states that “enormous amounts of resources, materials, water and energy are exploited, processed and consumed for the execution of a work and are limited to the useful life of buildings “. Cyclical design changes and transforms resource management making it more effective and minimizes waste generation through reuse by changing the way architecture is created.

One of the most successful projects (on an urban scale) of how the reuse of materials can be carried out is the one proposed by The New Raw, a research and design studio based in Rotterdam (Netherlands) founded in 2015 by the architects Panos Sakkas and Foteini Setaki, who launched the Zero Waste Lab in the city of Thessaloniki (Greece), an initiative where citizens can recycle plastic waste and transform it into urban furniture. This is part of the Print Your City project, where a robotic arm is used, and recycling generates the creation of furniture with plastic waste. The New Raw uses robotic 3D printing with recycled plastic to develop and implement circular design concepts of high aesthetic value and social impact.

Not only in architecture and design, wherever we are in the world we must take into account the principle of the 3 Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle because these actions have been promoted as a way to protect natural resources and minimize the waste that damages the environment around us so much.


Construyen País Web: «Materials Speak» Towards the Applicability of Recycled Materials in Architecture and Urban Design

Archdaly: 8 possible ways to use recycled materials in architecture and urban planning

The New Raw:

Sobre el autor

Omar Amorós

Carlos Omar Amorós Núñez

Periodista y Docente
Estudié Ciencias de la Comunicación en la Universidad Privada San Martín de Porres. Llevé cursos de crítica cinematográfica y teatral; y he trabajado en Revistas y en Agencias de Medios y Relaciones Públicas. Ejercí también como docente del área de comunicaciones para alumnos de primaria y secundaria, y como asesor de prensa para escritores. Además, escribí sobre arte y cultura en los diarios Expreso y Perfil, y en el Suplemento Variedades del diario El Peruano.


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