architecture circular economy

Building of the week: Triodos’ circular economy office

You may be familiar with Triodos, the ethical banking group. I have savings with them and get their occasional magazine, and the latest edition features their new headquarters near Utrecht in the Netherlands.

The building is set in an area of woodland and looks out on mature trees. It is made entirely of wood, sourced from forests in Germany and storing over a million kilos of carbon in its structure. It has a green roof and ponds to encourage wildlife, and a rainwater harvesting system provides water to flush toilets. The building is located near a railway station, but also has car parking bays with electric charging points. The solar roof over the parking area generates enough electricity to make the whole office building energy positive.

This is all excellent, but the really ground breaking part is that this office has been designed with the circular economy in mind. The architect, Thomas Rau, argues that in a circular economy all buildings should be seen as temporary. Building sites should be assembly sites, and buildings should be considered banks of materials.

Consequently, the end of the building has been designed in right from the start. The whole six story structure is held together with 165,312 screws, and it can be dismantled, piece by piece, with every component logged for easy deconstruction in a public database. It is 100% reusable, and could even be taken apart and rebuilt somewhere else.

I’ve written about this approach being used with ships, but nobody has ever attempted a fully reconstructible building on this scale before, or incorporated the idea of a building as a materials bank quite so comprehensively. It contrasts starkly with standard building techniques that concrete and mortar things down as if they are immovable parts of the landscape. When it has to be replaced, even hundreds of years later, it can only be demolished into a vast pile of rubble. A building that is a materials bank stewards those resources and makes them available to future generations to make something else with them, like a Lego set that can be reimagined another time. It’s a generous and long term approach as well as a sustainable one.

I hope to see many more projects like this in future.

3 comments

  1. Brilliant – with its circular economy perspective this strikes me as one of the most significant examples of sustainable architecture I’ve seen for quite some time.

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