Environmental design guidelines for circular building components: The case of the circular building structure

Leonora Charlotte Malabi Eberhardt*, Anne van Stijn, Liv Kristensen Stranddorf, Morten Birkved, Harpa Birgisdottir

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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    Transitioning to a circular built environment can reduce the environmental impacts, resource consumption and waste generation emanating from buildings. However, there are many options to design circular building components, and limited knowledge on which options lead to the best environmental performance. Few guidelines exist and they build on conventional environmental performance assessments that focus on single life cycles, whereas the circular economy (CE) focuses on a sequence of multiple use-and life cycles. In this article, environmental design guidelines for circular building components were developed in five steps. First, examples of circular variants of a building structure were synthesized. Second, the environmental performance of these variants was compared with a business-as-usual variant through Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) and Material Flow Analysis (MFA) respectively. Circular parameters of these variants were tested using a scenario-specific approach. Third, from 24 LCAs and MFAs, a scorecard, rules-of-thumb and nine environmental design guidelines for designing circular building components were developed that provide guidance on which circular pathways and variants lead to the best environmental performance. For components with a long functional–technical lifespan, the following are promoted: resource efficiency, longer use through adaptable design, low-impact biomaterials and facilitating multiple cycles after and of use. Fourth, the design guidelines were evaluated by 49 experts from academia, industry and government in seven expert sessions. Further research is needed to validate the generalizability of the design guidelines. However, this research makes an important step in supporting the development of circular building components and, subsequently, the transition to a circular built environment.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number5621
    JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
    Issue number10
    Number of pages27
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


    • Circular economy (CE)
    • Life cycle assessment (LCA)
    • Material flow analysis (MFA)
    • Design guidelines
    • Buildings
    • Structure


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