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PhD Defence Marc van den Berg

managing circular building projects

Marc van den Berg is a PhD student in the department of Construction Management & Engineering. His supervisor is A.M. Adriaanse from the Faculty of Engineering Technology (ET).

As the most resource intensive and wasteful industry, the construction sector is causing enormous socio-environmental problems. The root causes of these problems can be traced back to the way building projects are managed. Buildings are generally delivered as linear throwaway products, to be reduced to poorly recyclable waste when no longer needed. The latter is also happening at increasing pace, since buildings need to operate in ever complex and dynamic environments – while they are being designed and constructed as static structures. Previously developed remedies mainly targeted some socio-environmental symptoms rather than these root causes. The concept of a circular economy, alternatively, poses that economic development and profitability are possible without continuously growing pressure on the environment through a combination of reduce, reuse and recycle activities. It is still unclear how the concept could be applied to manage building projects though. This paper-based thesis aims to provide some guidance to that end.

The main research goal is to develop actionable knowledge on managing circular building projects through exploring how information can be used to reduce, reuse and/or recycle building materials. It explicitly adopts the perspective of project management as challenges in (efficiently) using information. Construction managers, in this view, organize information to initiate and control material flows. Applying circularity thinking to this view then introduces a focus on enabling closed-loop material flows or, in other words, on maximizing reducing, reusing and recycling of building materials. Each of the chapters examines an essential, information intensive management task that contributes to one or more of these material strategies. The first three chapters do this from a demolition management perspective: they cover information usages for material recovery and reuse decisions (Chapter 1), subsequent coordination of demolition activities (Chapter 2) and the support of those activities with BIM-based methods (Chapter 3). The second three chapters do so from a design management perspective: they deal with information usages in generating reversible design proposals with BIM-based methods (Chapter 4), evaluating those proposals with a virtual reality-based method (Chapter 5) and a reflective serious gaming approach (Chapter 6). Different methodologies are adopted to provide a holistic understanding of essential management tasks during demolition and design, which are both conceptualized as part of a continuous cycle.

The first key insight that this thesis, accordingly, builds, is that demolition managers can enable closed-loop material flows through leveraging the information potentials of previous and later design stages. Information produced in a previous design stage, here called a priori design information, concerns any original representations and specifications of focal building materials; information produced in a later design stage, here called a posteriori design information, concerns any plans to reuse (or recycle) recovered building materials in the future. Demolition managers need to leverage the potentials of both types of design information to effectively close material loops. This key insight is mainly based on the related knowledge outputs of the first three chapters:

Chapter 1 developed a general proposition for predicting whether (or not) a demolition contractor will recover any building objects. Based on ethnographic data on the use of information for such decisions, it is posed that any building object will be recovered for reuse only when the demolition contractor: (1) identifies an economic demand for the object; (2) distinguishes appropriate routines to disassemble it; and (3) can control the performance until integration in a new building.

Chapter 2 provided an explanatory account on the coordination of demolition activities. The multiple-case study conceptualized demolition contractors as information processing systems facing uncertainty. It is concluded that demolition contractors need to take adequate organizational measures in response to specific levels of building, workflow and environmental uncertainty to effectively coordinate reuse or recycling of building materials.

Chapter 3 reflected on three BIM uses to support deconstruction practices. Following an ethnographic-action research methodology, three new BIM uses were iteratively developed and implemented on site (contributing to reuse and recycling): ‘3D existing conditions analysis’, ‘reusable elements labeling’ and ‘4D deconstruction simulation’.

The second key insight of this thesis is that design managers can, similarly, enable closed-loop material flows through leveraging the potentials of previous and later demolition stages. Along the same lines as above, a distinction is made between respectively a priori demolition information, which concerns any specifications and representations of reusable building materials, and a posteriori demolition information, which concerns any plans to facilitate recovery and subsequent reuse (or recycling) of materials in the future. Design managers can close material loops through leveraging the potentials of both types of demolition information. This insight is based on the related knowledge outputs of the second three chapters:

Chapter 4 identified, classified and elaborated on BIM uses for reversible building design. Based on a case study, it is concluded that BIM-based methods differ in their potential to generate a reversible building design proposal – and to ease future reuse. ‘Key’ BIM uses are: design authoring, 3D coordination (clash detection) and drawing production. ‘Viable’ BIM uses are: quantity take-off (cost estimation) and design review. ‘Negligible’ BIM uses are: phase planning (4D simulation), code validation and engineering analyses.

Chapter 5 proposed a virtual reality-based method to communicate design intent and feedback. Aligning expectations and solving design errors can help to reduce the use of building materials. The multiple-case study demonstrated that virtual reality environments provide benefits when used prior to designer-client review meetings in terms of (i) exploration from a user perspective, (ii) participation in solution-finding and (iii) feedback on a design proposal.

Chapter 6 described a serious game design and its learning benefits. Based on game play sessions with students, it is concluded that serious games can contribute in experiential learning about construction supply chain management. Reflecting on the impacts of (circular) design decisions on later life-cycle stages contributes to reducing and reusing materials.

With these complementary insights, this paper-based thesis helps to rethink the way building projects can be managed. Material reduce, reuse and recycle activities are essential steps to move towards a healthier built environment that can regenerate itself time after time. Those activities can be managed through leveraging information potentials during demolition and design life-cycle stages. In circular building projects, those stages are part of a continuous cycle centered around buildings as material banks. Two key management strategies were derived to close material loops. Demolition managers need to use information from previous and later design stages; design managers similarly need to use information from previous and later demolition stages. These a priori and a posteriori information uses provide a hopeful and actionable response to many of the socio-environmental problems that can be attributed to today’s construction industry.