The circular economy is a term most people are familiar with. Started by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation it is based on decades of previous research, concepts and philosophies from eminent people in the field. The concept is simple: “…a framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design.”1 It aims to decouple economics from the consumption of finite resources, treat waste as a resource, transition to renewable energy sources and build economic, natural and social capital. The three main principles of the circular economy are to:
- Design out waste and pollution
- Keep products and materials in use
- Regenerate natural systems2
So how does this translate into the ‘real world’ of commercial design?
Working with rating systems such as Green Star from the Green Building Council of Australia or The Living Building Challenge do provide many of the resources and roadmaps for the way forward underpinning similar principles as the circular economy.
For those not wanting to go down this more formal path there are other ways the circular economy can be considered for design.
Firstly consider the life-cycle of the project itself – from short to long. This will determine the type of design and materials that will form the basis of the project. Basically, the shorter the project the sooner it will enter into the circular economy ‘process cycle’, and how the design’s life cycle needs to be considered with the sourcing of the materials. So will the design system embrace modular flexibility, durability and longevity, immediate reuse, ease of repair, biodegradability, local systems and so on to best fir with its own life span. Understanding how the design principles fit with the life span of the project and external systems is key to then sourcing materials.
The materials then need to suit this overarching system. For example a short term project the project may consider a modular approach fostering re-use and have a local focus to reduce transport miles and support local manufacturing and labour. As local, re-use and modularity are the important features of this project, these are the keys to now sourcing materials for producing a flexible, modular design for future reuse.
The Haka Recycle Office in Rotterdam by the interdisciplinary design firm, DoepelStrijkers is an excellent example of how this type of philosophy can be put into practice. A material flow map was constructed to locate and contain the availability of all reusable materials within the locale of Rotterdam. These were then meticulously itemised and grouped into matrices enabling the intrinsic qualities of the materials to provide the basis for the design of the furniture and interior design elements. It was also important for them to be easily dismantled at a later time, be built with as few electrical tools as possible and assembled using local unskilled workers.
These types of projects demonstrate how designing within the circular economy can be an opportunity for innovative ways of rethinking what we do that everyone can benefit from.
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