Buildings as Materials Banks: circular economy in construction

Published on Tuesday, 30 January 2018

With the transition towards the circular economy, buildings change, they become reusable, and their value lasts over time. The European project Buildings as Material Banks (BAMB) - launched in 2015 and financed within the European research and innovation project Horizon 2020  - provides tools to enable this transition, in particular:

  • designing buildings that can adapt to new requirements, the so-called reversible projects
  • developing construction solutions based on material passports to support their reuse and recycle.


Since materials become waste once they can no longer be used, BAMB creates solutions to increase the value of construction materials, enabling their reuse.  These buildings, having a dynamic and flexible design, become “banks” of valuable materials, slowing down the use of resources to a pace that is sustainable for the planet.

So far, six pilot projects have been launched to investigate and implement new types of design, production, construction and maintenance for dynamic and circular buildings:

Build Reversible in Conception (BRIC): this is a new module, consisting of a wood frame structure and prefabricated wall, floor and roof boxes, which will be built, dismantled, reconstructed and transformed 3 times. The sustainable and reversible teaching module will provide training to future contractors of 12 professions of the construction sector (eg. carpenters, masonry contractors, painters, interior designers, electricians, installers of sanitary and heating units) towards the circular economy.

Green Transformable Building Lab: the project, developed in Utrecht, Netherlands, aims to demonstrate that waste generated by changing functions of a building can be reduced by 70% through the use of upgradable modular and exchangeable components. The use of virgin materials will be reduced by 50%.

New office building: the project is located in Essen, directly on the UNESCO world heritage site of “Zeche Zollverein”, a former coal mine industrial complex, visited by over 1.5 million people a year. The new office building – with a special focus on the Cradle to Cradle principles - will host over 200 high quality office work places, meeting and conference rooms, and a rooftop garden.

The Circular Retrofit Lab: it will be built at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel as a demonstrator lab, in which new and existing building solutions will be integrated that are demountable, adaptable and reusable, in comparison with Meccano kits. This demonstrator will show how an existing structure can get more potential for the future in order to be easily transformed into a different function (e.g. a dissemination space, a co-working space, an eco-guesthouse in the middle of the campus).

Reversible Experience Modules: the exhibition consists of more than 30 building-materials and -products, all optimised for healthy use and reuse. Visitors use the material passports to dismantle and rebuild parts of the exhibition themselves. They experience the benefits of building for reuse, and see what material passports make possible.

Green Design Centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina is envisioned as a location that will be showcasing principles of circular buildings. It is open to the public and has educational purposes. As such, it will be a part of a new innovation park in Mostar, where different aspects of sustainable living will be integrated, such as urban farming, wind mills, open workplaces for disabled children and an open expo exhibiting innovation sustainable concepts.

The circular economy is ultimately a tool, one that should be considered in all projects. BAMB will facilitate its adoption, inspiring new designs and business models to meet evolving industry needs, while protecting the value of materials in the built environment.

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