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> Circular Structural Design



Circular economy; sustainable design; design for disassembly; building material reuse; urban mining; scenario-based design.

Project Duration

September 2021 - ongoing

Initiated by

Dr. Stijn Brancart, prof. Dr. Mauro Overend

Research Team

Dr. Stijn Brancart, prof. Dr. Mauro Overend


The construction sector is responsible for roughly 40% of the worldwide energy and process-related carbon emissions. A considerable amount of these are due to the embodied energy of buildings, the energy used and carbon emitted during the production and construction of a building and its constituent components. At least 60% of this embodied energy can generally be attributed to the load-bearing structure of a building. Despite these staggering figures, the construction sector does not consider material impacts in the valuation and selection of building materials. Even more so, many of these materials are discarded before the end of their technical life. Although the majority can be recycled, this still requires large amounts of energy and mostly leads to a devaluation of the material. The circular economy proposes a new paradigm in which materials can be reused through multiple functional cycles while retaining their value. 

Circular structural design requires new design approaches that consider a building structure throughout different phases of its lifecycle. This leads to a future-oriented perspective in which a structural system and its components are designed not only for one use cycle but also for potential reuse scenarios. At the same time, the existing building stock holds a vast amount of structural components and materials that will gradually become available in the future. While urban mining initiatives start to map the potential of these existing materials, the uptake is slow and the current design and construction approaches are not adapted to the many uncertainties related to material reuse. In the context of our circular structural design research, we focus on both of these aspects, the reuse and design for reuse of building structures and structural elements.

Reuse of building components is impeded by a wide range of technical but mainly organisational issues. This is even more true for load-bearing elements, whose use and reuse is linked to strict performance criteria. Our research aims at developing intelligent and efficient tools for the mining and inventorying of structural elements in the existing building stock as well as novel approaches for the assessment of their reuse potential and residual mechanical performance. At the same time, we investigate reuse strategies that will lead to a greater uptake of reuse materials in building projects. Together with building owners, contractors, designers and engineers, we look for new approaches to integrate these reuse strategies in a more circular construction process.

Through design for reuse new and renovated buildings can be more easily adapted to changing future needs. After their functional lifetime, they can be dismantled and their components reused without losing value. To accomplish this, we study and develop structural design approaches that include lifecycle thinking in a systematic way. Scenario-based design enables assessing the reuse potential and lifecycle impact and as such optimise structures not only for their initial but also for a potential future use.


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