Concrete has been the rock star of modern architecture: it is strong, versatile, and durable, able to withstand natural and environmental disasters. However, it has a downside: it is highly contaminating, one of the leading causes of CO2 emissions and debris, not to mention its financial cost. 

Fortunately, the advances in technology have taken us very far in the field of concrete recycling, providing new ways to reuse it in innovative, unimaginable ways.

1. “Upcycle Studios” by Lendager Group – Ørestad, Denmark, Copenhagen 

This development aimed to solve the housing problem in Denmark while maintaining a circular economy and reducing the carbon footprint. By creating a new recycling technique, around 850 tons of concrete were recovered from the construction of the Copenhagen metro (urbanNext, 2020), reducing CO2 emissions. The group’s social and urban perspective extended beyond an overall sustainable design but fostered new jobs. 

Wooden floors made from leftover planks from a Danish flooring company and recycled glass windows dressed the luxurious interiors. Lendager Group proved responsible design could be appealing, durable, and accessible while responding to urban needs.

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©Morten Nielsen, Rasmus Hjortsjøj and Lendager Group
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©Morten Nielsen, Rasmus Hjortsjøj and Lendager Group
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©Morten Nielsen, Rasmus Hjortsjøj and Lendager Group

2. “SOS Children’s Villages Lavezzorio Community Center” by Studio Gang Architects – Illinois, Chicago

Each material has its language and character that allows it to communicate with each other and the public. By reusing debris from abandoned constructions near the site’s surroundings, the concrete façade tells the story of the building’s emergence as it strives to express a sense of community and integration, inside and outside dialogue through the broken lines of the façade and inner stairs in this inviting, warm space. 

Sustainability and recycling become the greeter of this communal space that strives for the younger generations’ care.

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Steve Hall ©Hedrich Blessing
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Steve Hall ©Hedrich Blessing
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Steve Hall ©Hedrich Blessing

3. “Hanil Visitors Center & Guest House” by BCHO Architects – Chungcheongbuk-do, South Korea

This building is the built manifesto intended to educate visitors on the importance and versatility of concrete recycling. The architects comprehend very clearly where they are working, and the impact concrete preparation and waste have on the environment. As a result, they came up with a sustainable design where concrete has multiple faces, creating opaque and translucent tiles, conforming the landscape design, and featuring that material honesty in interior sculptures. 

The main façade displays gabion cages (Archdaily, 2010) that add up texture and rusticity to the overall building, the remaining concrete employed for insulation. Despite the visual appeal, the most crucial aspect of this building is enlightening the need for education in environmental matters from a constructive perspective.

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©Wooseop Hwang
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©Wooseop Hwang
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©Wooseop Hwang

4. “Tubohotel” by T3arc – Tepoztlán, México

Recycling debris is not the only way to reuse concrete: inspired bit the Dasparkhotel, T3arc studio found its muse to create an innovating hotel made of old sewage concrete tubes: stacked in pyramids of three, each tube of 2.44m diameter and 2,5 m long (PlataformaArrquitectura, 2011) make up individual bedrooms that, following an organic, scattered distribution grant the visitors with panoramic views of Tepoztlan. 

This sustainable measure avoids the waste of these massive structures as it introduces an exotic way of experiencing Mexico, hoping to boost tourism in the area.

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©Luis Gordoa
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©Viajeromiope

5. “Kunsthaus Zurich” by David Chipperfield – Zurich, Sweden

Chipperfield’s project presents a double way of reusing material: not only 95% of the concrete employed for the building turns out to be recycled, but when we refer to the Kunsthaus, we are referring to the expansion of the Zurich art museum and what a better way to recycle a building that through restoration? 

This project brings the best out of the 3B concrete, making use of its aesthetic characteristics, brighter than the usual concrete. Sustainable and environmentally friendly in its materiality and CO2 emissions, it honors Sweden’s renewed approach to the arts.

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©Noshe
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©Noshe
©Noshe

6. “Recovering Aleppo” Project – Aleppo, Syria

The war in Aleppo left not only a devastated society but also a discouraging, heartbreaking scenery: traces of mass destruction characterized by the scattered debris and dusted air reign over the capital of Syria. The environmental and economic situation makes the reconstruction task even harder. 

This project turns devastation into a possibility by recycling rubble to rebuild the city. In terms of sustainability, this would reduce the CO2 emissions and dissipate the chaos of the occupied territory. From a social perspective, the plan would help make amends with the city’s traumatic past while fostering a renewed sense of community, who would carry on with the mentioned task.

©Recovering Aleppo Research Study
©Recovering Aleppo Research Study
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©Recovering Aleppo Research Study

7. “SwimCity” Project by Belatchew Arkitekter – Stockholm

Housing scarcity and unreachable prices are problems students living in Stockholm face every day. With a history of environmentally friendly approaches, the Swedish city was presented back in 2014 with a project seeking to solve these issues while reducing construction pollution (one of the leading climate changers). “SwimCity” addressed expensive housing by taking advantage of Stockholm’s vast waterfront, designing a floating neighborhood 3D printed in recycled concrete. 

According to Belachew Studio, this would reduce construction costs and pollution, being a sustainable project powered by sustainable energy, granted by water forces. Moreover, building over water would relieve the city’s constructed surface while enabling flexibility and growth according to the growing needs. Unfortunately, the SwimCity remains on hold, but the sustainable, social and urban perspective meeting territorial opportunities should not pass unadvertised.

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©Belatchew Arkitekter
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©Belatchew Arkitekter
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©Belatchew Arkitekter

8. “3D Printed Houses” by Winsun New Materials – China

The application of new technologies is vital for the development of faster, more economical construction. In China, they have proved that it is possible to design cheap, fast, and sustainably: in 24 hours, the Winsun New Materials company, based in Suzhou, was able to print a total of 10 houses, each of them for the cost of around $5000, in reused construction material and cement. 

In a city where mega infrastructure leads the building style, the need to supply the growing urbanization became incipient. Therefore this new building process looks forward to alleviating the stress on housing matters and providing the citizens.

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Source: Architizer
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Source: Architizer
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Source: Architizer

9. Concrete Lamps by Bentu Design

Bentu Design is a specialized studio in the creation of unique, experimental pieces in concrete and terrazzo. Therefore, it is not to our surprise (but to our delight, we may add) that they lounged back in 2016 a series of products made out of recycled construction materials. The line is born from the team’s perspective that “Excessive designs increasingly burdens the Earth” (Upcyclist, 2016), inspiring these original designs of illumination. 

Neat, edgy lamps; flexible, fresh, modern lamps are some of the morphologies adopted by Bentu, experimenting with the dialogue between recycled and natural material in regular yet classic products.

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Source: Upcyclist
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Source: Upcyclist
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Source: Upcyclist

10. The modular eco collection: Escofet ECOconcrete

Escofet has proven once again that recycled concrete can look natural, high quality, classy and lasting. In its new collection, a series of versatile, eco-friendly, modular pieces of urban furniture built from reused concrete can be organized and combined according to project needs, granting the city with socially friendly spaces. 

Using dry aggregates to complement the recycled material, we are saving up water and energy and treating them with low maintenance products shortly. This sustainable brand gives back to the city’s urban spaces, fostering community in a traditional, elegant, environmentally friendly way.

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©Escofet
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©Escofet
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©Escofet

References

  1. Archdaily (2010) . Hanil Visitors Center & Guest House / BCHO Architects  [online]. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/72484/hanil-visitors-center-guest-house-bcho-architects [Accessed 29 March 2021].
  2. Plataforma Arquitectura (2011). TuboHotel / T3arc [online]. Available at: https://www.plataformaarquitectura.cl/cl/02-97634/tubohotel-t3arc [Accessed 1 april 2021]
  3. Upcyclist (2016). Concrete lamps made with recycled construction waste by Bentu. [online] Available at: https://www.upcyclist.co.uk/2016/04/homeware-made-recycled-construction-waste/ [Accessed 1 april 2021]
  4. urbanNext (2020).Upcycled Studios: A Sustainable Solution.[online]. Available at: https://urbannext.net/upcycled-studios/ [Accessed 29 March 2021].
Author

Constanza Bianco is a 3rd year Undergraduate architect in the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her passion for writing dates back to her childhood, becoming an avid reader and learning enthusiast at a young age. She believes architecture to be a powerful tool and aspires to understand its endless possibilities.

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