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How might we turn circular construction challenges into experimenting opportunities?

Updated: Apr 13, 2021

In June Clear Village hosted a successful CIRCuIT City Hack which attracted designers, architects, engineers and built environment experts from around the globe as part of the CIRCuIT circular economy event for #CEWeekLDN2020.

The first Circular City Hack which is a part of a series of hackathons in London, explored creative ways of applying circular design solutions to construction. The hackathon series has been split into three phase.

[screenshot from Miro board, credit: Clear Village]

The first, an exploratory ideation session for experts and designers to identify potential areas for making. Followed by a design sprint in a makerspace, where ideas from the first hackathon will be physically explored. Finally, a participatory event, which will be open to the public, to share the outcomes.

After attending the circular construction local network event hosted by CIRCuIT partners in London, the 30 participants were split into 3 teams facilitated by Other Today and supported by design studio Good Waste. Good Waste introduced the three themes for the hack which were;

[screenshot from Zoom, credit: GoodWaste]
  1. Urban Mining: inventing creative ways of dismantling buildings, re-using and recycling materials

  2. Flexible Design: designing for disassembly and flexible construction on an industrial scale

  3. Transformation; extending a building's life through sustainable and adaptive reuse and refurbishment.

Challenges from CIRCuIT were assigned to the relevant theme. We aimed to turn these challenges into experimenting opportunities, by reimagining them as questions to create ways of exploring circular construction.

[screenshot from Miro board, credit: Clear Village]

We began ‘mind writing’ - listing as many responses as possible. We clustered these into themes, using digital stickers to vote for favourites. No challenge was too crazy or too boring, for example “Focus on one reused or recycled material or element in the new construction”. Became: “How might we (HMW) reuse glass at a high quality?” Or “HMW create new sand from old glass?” and “HMW save windows?”

[screenshot from Zoom, with permision]

To bring physicality into the digital, each participant folded a piece of paper into 8. In each box we had 1 minute to draw an idea answering a post-it. In 8 minutes we generated 240 ideas. From giant sandcastles to baths for buildings.

After presenting, the group chose their favourites to share in the closing livestream. Many of the ideas, while unusual, opened up interesting areas for further thinking.

The results

To conclude, each team choose their key ‘How might we’ (HMW) questions and answers

The Urban Mining team settled on:

[screenshot from Miro board, credit: Clear Village]

1. “HMW determine the quality of materials?”

Research shows data can be stored in objects using tiny glass beads of DNA. So, information such as age or composition, or even the architectural history of the building could be conveyed post demolition.

2. “HMW enable local people to participate in a material sharing?”

What if the Harvest festival was about sharing materials rather than food? Taking one neighbours waste to help another. Combining folklore with circular construction to instil these ideas at a community level.

3. “HMW simplify the diverse amount of materials used?” Using a limited palette of materials reduces the variety of waste, so single material construction should be encouraged. This material could be sourced from building waste, for example, glass. While it can be reclaimed easily, it is energy intensive to recycle and often broken. Instead of re-melting it, it can be ground and used as material industrial 3D printing.

The Transformation team settled on:

“HMW pass on the identity of a building through transformation”

We could be incorporating narratives and memories into materials. The team imagined gamifying 3Dbuilding scans and narratives allowing people to play with it. The game becomes a record of the building's memory, a kind of ghostly minecraft for construction allowing the remodelling of an existing building’s components.

The Flexible Design Team settled on:

“HMW incentivise the higher cost of long lasting and interchangeable parts in a flexible design system?”

This challenge is less of an engineering one but more a social and systemic one - what would it look like if many stakeholders came together to create a system that really worked? A flexible design system needs to be collaborative, so ownership is distributed - could each owner become a shareholder in the parts so that there is a financial incentive for re-use? If we reimagine the boundaries of ownership could we incentivise longer lasting and interchangeable parts?

Applying the ideas generated to CIRCuIT and future hackathons

The depth of discussion and variety of ideas explored in such a short time show this topic is worth revisiting in forthcoming hackathons. We are planning the next stage of the programme and are hopeful that we can host the next phase in an in-person setting. The Good Waste designers will reflect on ideas generated by the first hackathon and they will be joined by teams of designers selected from an open call to spend time experimenting with materials to create unique and inspirational objects. Apply to join the design team by emailing

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