Designed and delivered as a prototype for the 2016 London Design Festival; the Circular Building is one of the first in the UK built to satisfy Circular Economy principles.

The Circular Building challenged us, as architects, to create a functioning building that would respond in its entirety to Circular Economy principles. All components needed to be implemented and utilised to their full potential and for the duration of their life cycle. While creating a comfortable and aesthetic environment for the user.

Together, with our partners we refined the application of existing pre-fab construction techniques, integrating open-source details with materials that are inherently circular. Our architectural design team worked with our engineers to produce and test details that utilise fine-tuned engineering rather than mechanical fixings; the result is an extremely low-waste, self-supporting and demountable SIPS wall system. Clamp connections between the wall and recycled steel frame ensure that both can be repurposed in the future. The cladding and decking are sustainably sourced heat treated timber that is durable and recyclable.

Materials and waste in the UK construction industry


The construction industry in the UK consumes more than 400m tonnes of materials every year, making it the nation’s largest consumer of natural resources.


Adding demolition, the sector is also the largest contributor of waste, contributing more than 30% of global annual greenhouse gas emissions and consuming up to 40% of all energy.


Waste management and disposal costs are huge, swallowing up 30% of construction firms’ pre-tax profits.



The simplistic architectural ‘house’ form (informed by Stewart Brand’s Six S’s diagram) promotes engagement through a familiar archetype and scale of building that is instantly readable.

The tectonics of the constituent parts are showcased in the architecture. The gable ends reveal the layers of the building envelope and the cleverly crafted SIPS panels; offering visual narration of the design process and circular elements. The structural frame extends creating an additional bay to allow the possibility for extension and future adaptation.

The clamps and connections are on show and the steel frame left exposed, helping to subtly subdivide the interior volume in to three zones, each reflecting how the circular economy could shape our living, working and public environments respectively.

Focusing on the ‘loop’ and ‘Re-use’ actions of the Ellen Macarther Foundation’s ReSOLVE framework; finishes and fittings throughout the interior were carefully selected to exemplify circular principles and to create a comfortable, natural environment. The carpet was supplied on a take-back scheme. The supplier, Desso, commits to replacing the carpets when worn out and sustainably re-furbishing and reusing it.

The living zone was cocooned in an acoustic wall system, made entirely from recycled plastic bottles, a material that can be reformed again and again. The work station integrated Arup’s ‘It’s all about the Desk’ project elements. This is a system, which uses sensors to monitor the internal environment, relaying data in a cloud hosted system linking together the operable skylights, blinds and lighting system, creating an optimised environment.

A new way of thinking about the design process and its influence on the supply chain was necessary to achieve circularity at every level. Extensive materials research and testing was integrated into the design process. Every component of the building was interrogated and researched to reveal its potential circularity. This enabled the team to produce a Materials Data Base, collating for the first time information on the production, material substance and next use of each asset.

From the sleeper foundations to the skylights the whole project needed to be procured and assembled on the constrained site in central London within a very tight 8 week design stage and a build time of 2 weeks.



The detailing moved away from the traditional glass, wood or steel junctions to ensure efficient assembly, in a ‘flat-pack’ style. Each panel was comprised of a series of pieces that had been designed to fit in a specific location. These pieces were rationalized through various computational iterations to make them as repetitive as possible. Each panel was given an individual QR code before being taken to site.

The materials data formed the exhibition catalogue which was hosted on a website accessed via the QR codes displayed on each component. The BIM model was used to generate the QR codes, imbedding the material data into a virtual record of the building and all of its components. This process proved the potential for a powerful tool for tracking materials in current and future use, a key principle of the Circular Economy.

The Circular Building represents how architectural design can facilitate the journey towards a more circular industry. It is important that design looks to innovate its approach, invest in developing advanced digital capabilities and continue collaborating. The circular economy presents designers, developers, owners and operators across the property sector with a range of valuable long-term benefits, but represents a radical change in approach.


About the Circular Economy

The circular economy model aims to decouple economic growth from resource consumption. Arup’s research outlines key principles of the circular economy, using the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s ReSOLVE framework to explore and contextualise practical applications in the built environment. Arup identifies how the circular economy can benefit the built environment. Reflecting on the economic, social and environmental advantages of employing circular principles. Arup believes the circular economy can help tackle the complex nature of the built environment through multidisciplinary working, and can drive a shift towards more sustainable forms of economic growth, urban life and value creation.

The London Design Festival

The London Design Festival is an annual event held to celebrate and promote London as the design capital of the world; and act as a gateway to the international creative community. 

Relevant Links 

ARUP: Circular Economy in the Built Environment

The Ellen Ellen MacArthur Foundation

BAMFRENER & REIFERThe Built Environment Trust