The “circular economy” is the new buzzword on the European sustainability agenda. Of particular concern is the European Union (EU’s) built environment. The building and construction sector uses half of all new resources and generates more than a third of all waste. The EU believes an only solution is a new approach and new tools to enable the sector to shift to a circular economy.

The EU Horizon 2020 Framework Programme funded the Buildings As Material Banks (BAMB) project from 2017 to 2020. The project set out to answer the question: “How can the built environment move towards a circular economy, and in turn, reimagine how¬†valuable materials are tracked and recycled?”

When building, each brick, board, piece of wood or glass has value. When buildings are demolished or refurbished, the removed materials are often damaged and wasted. However, things change when viewing a building as a storage bank of valuable materials.

Sustaining the value of the materials is the key to circular material use, and ways to harvest this value is at the centre of the circular economy

Sixteen organisations in Europe participated in the BAMB project to identify circular solutions that enable a systemic shift in the building sector. The project developed various practical applications, including materials passports (MPs) and reversible building design.

It proposed the MP as a highly detailed inventory of all the materials, resources, components, maintenance, replacements and changes to a building.

The Triodos Bank by RAU Architects has a Materials Passport. Pic by Bert Rietberg.

BAMB piloted projects where architects designed buildings that could be unassembled and the materials re-used.

It cites the new offices for the Triodos Bank, headquartered in the Netherlands, as an example. It is the first large-scale, 100% wood, re-constructible building that is also a temporary materials bank. Its materials passport documents the origins and planned re-use of all construction products, components, and materials.

The project acknowledges that it will be challenging to introduce a materials passport in the architectural field because it requires adapting the building and construction processes and standards frameworks.

However, it concludes, the concept can potentially reshape the approach to architecture and engineering. It would encourage sustainable design strategies and trigger and enable new circular business and investment models.