The construction industry uses more raw materials than any other industry. In addition, it also produces the most waste. With his PhD thesis on circular construction, UT researcher Marc van den Berg provides the construction industry with a solid knowledge base for reducing, reusing and recycling of materials. Building materials resulting from demolition activities can be reused very well if this is anticipated in, among others, the design phase.
The construction industry is responsible for ever growing socio-environmental problems. The root cause of these problems can be traced back to the way building projects are being managed. Buildings are typically delivered as ‘linear’ throwaway products, but quickly reduced to poorly recyclable waste when no longer needed.
All this is happening at an increasing pace, because today’s buildings have to operate in environments that are becoming increasingly complex and dynamic – while they are typically designed and built as static structures. Previously developed remedies mainly tried to tackle some of these problems’ symptoms rather than their root causes. This research, alternatively, rethinks buildings as material banks and considers ‘circular’ project management practices as a potential breakthrough.
The objective of the research is to develop actionable knowledge for managing circular building projects. How can we reduce, reuse and/or recycle building materials? Project management is seen as a challenge in efficiently organising information. Construction project managers use information to initiate and control material flows. Circularity thinking thereby shifts the focus to closing material loops. For example, a concrete floor from one building could be reused in another building after demolition, if demolition contractors and design teams exchange information.
Circular management tasks
The PhD thesis deals with various management tasks for circular building projects. For example, from a demolition management perspective: the use of information for ‘harvesting’ building materials, coordinating demolition activities on site and supporting those activities with digital building information models (BIM). Or from a design management perspective: using information for realising a reversible building design with BIM-based methods, reviewing design proposals in a virtual environment and playing a reflective serious game.
Demolition and design managers depend on information from each other to manage circular building projects. Demolition managers need to use information from both previous and later design phases; design managers similarly need to use information from both previous and later demolition phases. These so-called a priori and a posteriori information uses provide a hopeful and actionable answer to many of the socio-environmental problems the construction industry currently faces.
Marc van den Berg