This article looks into circular economy principles. This is the second part in a three-part series looking into this topic.

It is based on the work of David Cheshire and his book Building Revolutions.

In part one, which you can find here, we looked at how the principle of designing out waste is fundamental to achieving a circular economy within the built environment.

Principle 2: Build to Last & Adapt

The second principle is about creating structures that are built to last and that are adaptable. This should be no surprise, as if we go back to the original meaning of sustainability, it is about the capacity to endure or continue.

The adaptability part is probably what is less common, as it is probably not something that a significant amount of attention is paid to when the structure is being designed and built. This will have to change if progress is to be made on the circular economy within the built environment.

 Something that I found really interesting in the book was the Multispace concept. This is an idea where you construct a building with a set of parameters, so that it would be suitable for retail, leisure or office space, should that be required during the building’s lifetime.

Most of the building uses had pretty similar floor-to-ceiling height requirements, except retail, which had larger requirements. This can be accommodated by putting a higher ceiling on the ground floor, as that is the floor that is most likely to be converted to retail, if required.

In order to build buildings that can be reconfigured during their lifetimes, they need to be designed to be adaptable from the outset. David points towards a layered approach, which can help to make this possible:

“The use of a layered approach allows buildings to be flexed and adapted more readily. In particular, a separation between the primary structure, the facades, the services and the interiors of the building allows the structure to be retained whilst the façade is replaced, or the interiors be changed into new layouts whilst not being dictated by structural walls in awkward location.”

This seems like a sensible approach, that can prevent buildings being demolished well inside their lifecycle because of lack of planned in adaptability.

But although this is an approach which many would assume is intuitive, there are reasons and challenges for why this is not the case, which David alludes to:

“Designing for adaptability or deconstruction is hard to justify and is unlikely to happen unless it is part of a wider story that starts with reducing construction time on site, continues with the ability to retain value by adapting buildings to changing markets and concludes with the attractive idea of providing residual value rather than demolition costs.”

I thought this was nicely put by David. Overall, designing buildings that are built to last and be adaptable, is but one part of an overall strategy, that should look to take advantage of modern methods of construction and put sustainability at the heart of decision making.

What you need to know

This article was part two of my series looking into circular economy principles in the built environment.

Designing buildings that are built to last and that are adaptable is crucial to creating structures that last over time through multiple occupancies and end uses.

Strategies like paying attention to celling heights and using a layered approach should be used so that buildings can be reconfigured throughout their lifetimes, should that be required.

As is often the case it comes down to farsighted leadership which is required to make this happen.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to make the circular economy a reality in the built environment?

 Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby


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