The Circular Construction in Regenerative Cities report presents the key learnings, tools, methodologies and recommendations generated by the Circular Construction in Regenerative Cities (CIRCuIT) project from 2019 to 2023 across the cities of Copenhagen, Hamburg, London and Vantaa/Helsinki region.
This report was produced by members of the 31 partner organisations that were involved throughout. It shares a body of work that was made possible thanks to the time and expertise provided by numerous individuals who helped to support the project across its lifespan. This includes local decision makers and built environment stakeholders from each of the CIRCuIT cities, as well as the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme.
All of the resources presented in this report, along with the accompanying technical report, are available at circuit-project.eu/post/latest-circuit-reports-and-publications.
All deliverables are subject to the final approval of the European Commission. The information and views set out in the documents are those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Commission nor the European Research Executive Agency are responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained in this document.
Glossary of terms
The process of reusing a structure or building for a purpose other than the original purpose for which it was built or designed.
Business as Usual (BAU)
Shorthand for the continuation of current conventional construction process practices as if the intervention under consideration were not to happen. Usually used as a benchmark to compare interventions.
A piece of information that can be used to measure performance within the built environment to guide decision making and enable the industry to communicate their circular economy actions in a consistent way.
Design for Adaptability (DfA)
An approach to planning, designing, and constructing a building so it can be easily maintained, modified and used in different ways or for multiple purposes throughout its lifetime, extending its practical and economic life cycle.
Design for Disassembly (DfD)
Approach to the design of a product or constructed asset that facilitates disassembly at the end of its useful life in such a way that enables components, materials, and parts to be reused, recycled or, in some other way, diverted from the waste stream.
A form of recycling that repurposes materials into a substance of lower value than the original.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
A methodology developed to assess the environmental impacts of a building, component or material. The assessment compiles and evaluates the inputs and outputs of the material system throughout its life cycle and assesses the relevant environmental impact.
Life Cycle Cost Analysis (LCC)
An analysis of all the costs that will be incurred during the lifetime of the product, work or service. LCC may also include the cost of externalities such as environmental degradation or greenhouse gas emissions.
A range of strategies to make under-utilised spaces and places productive, both economically and socially, often for a shorter length of time until a long-term use for the space is determined.
Pre-demolition Audits (PDAs)
A systematic and comprehensive assessment conducted before the demolition or deconstruction of a building or structure which results in the inventory of materials and components arising from the building. The reusability and recyclability of the materials can also be assessed during this process.
Pre-redevelopment Audits (PRAs)
A systematic evaluation conducted before the redevelopment or repurposing of a property or site, typically with the aim of assessing and addressing potential environmental contamination and regulatory compliance issues. The potential to reuse or incorporate existing structures on site into the new plans can also be assessed during this process.
The process of systematically and intentionally collecting, salvaging and reusing materials from a building or construction site to extend their life cycle and reduce waste.
Any recovery operation by which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances whether for the original or other purposes.
Return on Investment (ROI)
The quantifiable returns and advantages derived from embracing specific construction methods. This encompasses financial gains, environmental benefits and enhanced social value resulting from the project’s design choices.
The repeated use of a product or component for its intended purpose without significant modification.
In architecture transformation is used as an umbrella term to refer to a wide range of potential changes to a building from a subtle change of appearance to a complete change of use.
A form of recycling that repurposes waste, products or materials into a substance of higher value than the original.
The process of recovering and reusing the raw materials that are already in the environment, cities or everyday products, in the resource cycle.
Introducing the CIRCuIT project
The way we currently build our cities is wasteful and inefficient with resources extracted, manufactured into components, and constructed into buildings only to be demolished and discarded as waste well before the end of their useful life.
Estimates suggest that 11% of global emissions are linked to manufacturing construction materials such as steel, cement and glass. In the EU alone, the built environment accounts for 36% of carbon emissions, 40% of material use and 50% of landfill waste.
Accommodating for the expected population growth within cities will mean constructing additional buildings and infrastructure equivalent to a city the size of Milan (1.5 million people) every week until 2050. There is, therefore, an urgent need to transition from a linear construction model to a more sustainable and regenerative one based on circular economy principles.
In a circular model, rather than continuing the traditional take-make-consume-dispose process, building material loops are closed through reuse, sharing, leasing, repair, refurbishment, upcycling or recycling. This radical reimagining of construction considers how the lifespan and reusability of entire buildings can be maximised at the very start of the design process and thereby ensures that usable materials are not discarded as waste.
Cities hold the keys to this transition. Working collaboratively with industry, they can find new ways of confronting the climate impact of construction and develop a new urban agenda. This also gives rise to co-benefits as embedding circular principles also supports wider policy goals such as net zero targets, climate resilience and adaptation in cities.
Further, this regenerative approach has economic and social benefits as more adaptable and flexible cities are better able to serve the changing needs and interests of residents and circular solutions often also bring cost savings over a building’s life cycle.
It is, therefore, crucial that cities and their stakeholders have the support, resources and tools needed to create change and drive circular construction practices locally.
Turning theory into practice
Many circular construction techniques, tools and approaches have been developed and tested around Europe, but circular practices are yet to be scaled up effectively to a city or regional level. To explore how the circular economy can be effectively embedded in cities across Europe, and bridge the gap between theory, practice and policy, CIRCuIT – Circular Construction in Regenerative Cities – was established.
CIRCuIT was a collaborative project funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme. The project involved 31 partners across the entire built environment supply chain in Copenhagen, Hamburg, Helsinki Region and London.
Over the course of the project three key results emerged:
1. It is beneficial: Circular practices can improve both the financial and environmental outcomes of construction projects. As part of the project, 36 demonstrators were developed that provide evidence of the carbon and economic implications of adapting conventional construction methods to more circular approaches. The results show that the environmental benefits are great: in all three thematic areas there can be significant carbon emissions reductions and resource savings. Cost benefits are also evident within the context of a circular approach and have been explored in the business cases within chapters 1, 2 and 3. Shifting to circular practices requires use of long-term thinking and seeing buildings as investments to be examined by legislation, integrated collaborations, and new financial models.
2. It can be done: Real changes are possible by defining a common agenda and applying tools that enable cities to work smarter given the same resources. CIRCuIT has developed tools that can help cities and their stakeholders embed circular economy practices, such as the transformation tool which supports the identification of buildings at risk of demolition, or the dialogue tool which ensures that conversations about circularity start early in the planning process. The CIRCuIT project also developed adaptable procurement requirements in collaboration with the construction industry (see chapter 5). Each of these tools will help to create changes within the landscape, processes, and behaviours.
3. It has scale-up potential: Circular practices are achievable at a building, neighbourhood, city or even country level. To generate the maximum impact of circular construction practices, each of the cities in the CIRCuIT project developed roadmaps that illustrated how best practices could be effectively embedded into city policy (chapters 3 and 5). The project also created working proof of concepts for digital tools such as the Material Reuse Portal that support the delivery of material exchange work and thereby enable increased uptake and the scaling of benefits (see chapter 6).
A call to action
Cities now have the opportunity to connect an ambitious circular economy transition to their sustainability goals. However, to achieve success, cities must also work with professionals from across the entire built environment value chain, from urban planners to material manufacturers, from demolition specialists to residents, and urge them to come together and transform the sector using circular economy principles.
Changing the way that the industry designs, constructs and transforms buildings and infrastructure is critical in the fight against the climate crisis. Thanks to the wide array of tools, case studies and datasets developed by the CIRCuIT project, stakeholders across the value chain are better equipped to turn ideas into reality.
Transformation and refurbishment of existing buildings is the first principle of circular construction. Applying a transformation-first approach will be key to meeting climate targets. Reducing the instances of demolition can keep resources that have already been refined in use for longer, reducing the need for new materials.
Methodologies to identify buildings at risk of demolition
Policy drivers to encourage decision makers and built environment professionals to extend the lives of existing buildings
12 demonstrator projects showcasing design transformation strategies.
10 business cases for building transformation.
Reusing and recycling building materials is a highly effective way to reduce the resource use and carbon intensity of the built environment by closing material loops. But many challenges are preventing cities from adopting this circular construction approach including issues with cost, adoption and the demolition process.
The CIRCuIT project explored these challenges and suggested ways to embed practical solutions on how cities and the building sector both build and demolish, from policies to Pre-Demolition Audits.
Recommendations to increase the reuse and recycling
of building materials
Recommendations for embedding pre-demolition audits (PDA)
in city policy
Methodology for developing an optimised PDA
12 demonstrators illustrating material reuse and recycling techniques
9 business cases for driving the reuse and recycling of building materials.
Design for disassembly (DfD) and design for adaptability (DfA) are two construction approaches that can help cities meet their future housing and infrastructure needs while ensuring circular economy principles are adopted. Currently, the technical solutions needed to adopt these approaches exist but take up throughout the construction industry is low. The CIRCuIT project explored what DfD and DfA looks like in practice, how these approaches can be embedded in cities, and how the environmental and economic benefits of DfD and DfA can be calculated to help increase adoption.
Methodology for assessing the return on investment (ROI) for DfD and DfA across three areas: monetary cost, carbon use and material use
Methodology to assess whether a DfD or DfA concept is likely
to be scaled up across a city
Roadmaps for DfD and DfA for Copenhagen, Hamburg, London
12 DfD and DfA demonstrator projects
7 business cases for DfD and DfA approaches.
A consistent and comprehensive approach to data collection, analysis and management is fundamental for a city to accelerate circularity in its built environment. As part of the CIRCuIT project, partners explored the data available in cities, how data capture can be improved and which indicators are key to supporting circularity.
Two methodologies and template for carrying out a circularity data mapping exercise and assessment of accessible data in a city
Set of data templates to improve the capture and sharing of data relating to components, spaces, buildings and areas
Recommendations to help a city address gaps or weaknesses in their data
Set of 37 indicators that focus on circularity at a city, building and materials level.
Two significant areas where cities can support a transition towards circular construction is through their planning and procurement policies. To help decision makers take effective action in these areas, the CIRCuIT project developed practical guidance on policy interventions, working with developers, criteria for public tenders and city-level circular economy strategies.
Policy interventions to embed circular approaches in cities
Checklist to support circular construction dialogue with developers on city projects
Recommended circular economy criteria for public sector tenders
Circularity policy roadmaps for Copenhagen, Hamburg, London and Vantaa
If cities are to increasingly transition to circular construction, it’s critical that decision makers and built environment professionals have access to tools that can help them turn circular construction theory into practice. As a result, CIRCuIT’s project partners developed five online tools to improve professional knowledge, increase acceptance of this way of building and ultimately, accelerate adoption of circular construction.
Material Reuse Portal
Citizen Engagement Portal
Circular Economy Wiki.
Overview of the four CIRCuIT cities
Copenhagen is internationally renowned for its innovative approach to the climate and the environment. It has a reputation as the world’s best city for cyclists. It is a living showcase for Danish architecture. But, most important of all, Copenhagen is a good place to live.
None of this came about by chance. It is the result of years of planning and development based on the needs of Copenhageners – everybody who lives in, uses, visits, works with or runs a business in the city. It is based on the life between the buildings.
Copenhagen sets ambitious climate goals, aiming to be the world’s first carbon neutral capital. It will achieve this through a city-wide transition toward sustainable energy supply, building retrofits, circular waste management, sustainable public infrastructure and mobility, as well as other key initiatives to support the transition.
The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg is one of the 16 states of the German federation and the second largest city in Germany. As a member of Eurocities and the City Science Initiative, Hamburg supports European cities and regions, facilitating knowledge sharing across networks, forums and workshops.
It is currently delivering several EU-funded Interreg and Horizon 2020 projects on urban development, circular economy and smart city elements, harnessing the power of innovation to progress towards its circular goal. In addition, in recent years Hamburg has set up ambitious climate transition targets in line with its industrial composition and socio-economic prospects, and it has introduced sectorial targets, including carbon reduction targets for each sector.
London is the engine of the UK economy, accounting for more than a fifth of the country’s economic output. Over many centuries London has evolved, resulting in an extraordinary web of distinctive residential streets, squares, markets, parks, offices and industrial and creative spaces.
London aspires to be a zero carbon, zero waste city, and to transition to a low carbon circular economy. This is part of a wider strategy promoting ‘Good Growth’, which is about working to rebalance development in London towards more genuinely affordable homes, to deliver a more socially integrated and sustainable city.
One of three cities in Helsinki metropolitan area, the city of Vantaa is the fourth biggest city in Finland. It has a total area of 240.35 km2 and a population of 223,000, rising by 2,400 citizens every year. The population is expected to reach over 300,000 by 2050.
Vantaa has a new comprehensive environmental programme called the Roadmap to Resource Wisdom 2030. It focuses on the circular economy and Vantaa’s ambition to be carbon neutral by 2030. The circular economy goals consist of reusing materials (including during a demolition), establishing circular economy as part of planning and execution and improving the model for circular economy areas.