Social Design Circular Economy

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Social design: centre for a circular economy

social design circular economy
Main entrance for the centre, leading to the clothing exchange and bar, the main staircase is ahead with access to the rest of the ground floor to the left.

My final major project for my BA Hons Interior Design at KLC School of Design was a social design. The brief was fairly open, in that we were able to choose the purpose of the design, utilising former department store, Arding and Hobbs in London. My interest in sustainability led me to design a centre for the circular economy.

Designing a centre for a circular economy has imposed real constraints on the project, it has also been the main inspiration for the concept ‘inside the box’. In order to satisfy the principals of a circular economy all materials must be sourced from those already in circulation, at the end of the design’s life those materials must be separable, reusable and recyclable. These limitations have inspired a limited palette of materials which, in the case of steel, may not immediately suggest sustainability, however, we have a vast amount in circulation already and it is absolutely possible to specify the use of recycled steel. Currently we do not readily recycle glazing glass, but there is growing pressure to do this, at the present time glazing glass is generally reused for purposes like building roads.

Social design, a centre for a circular economy. Ground floor plan, retaining the original layout.
Ground floor plan, utilising steel 'box' structures, the spaces are divided without the introduction of solid walls, remaining removable, reusable and recyclable.

The reuse of the historic listed building is in itself a sustainable approach and aligns with the circular economy, after all, the greenest building is one already built. The strategy is one of minimal intervention, where the historic architecture is preserved and left untouched, therefore existing windows and doors are retained and the existing layout is utilised with the absolute minimum of new divisions, in fact the only notable change to the layout has been in the provision of the ground floor toilets.

social design: centre for a circular economy
Inside the box. The concept for the design was inspired by the constraints of the circular economy and working with a historic building. Despite the constraints the solution required creativity with no design compromise in terms of aesthetics.

In order to avoid damage to the original beams and cornicing it was necessary to avoid electrical installations in the ceilings. The solution was to install a new suspended floor allowing for cabling and ventilation /  heating installations without damage to the historic building. This also leaves all these elements separable, removable and accessible for maintenance or at the end of the design’s life. The desire to avoid damage to the historic structure has resulted in the installation of lighting on the steel box structures used to divide the space and apply the concept.

Building layers were first set out by Stewart Brand, by designing for adaptability it is possible to keep the building in use for longer, designing for disassembly ultimately allows reuse.

It is proposed that a ‘wind vogel’ by Studio Roosegarde be a permanent installation on the roof of the building. This will generate power through the movement of the glowing, green cable and is capable of supplying energy for up to 200 households, which in the right conditions should provide sustainable and renewable power, not just for the centre but for the entire building. In addition to the wind vogel, solar panels will be installed and an algae bioreactor within the restaurant will supply additional power for the kitchen appliances and a potential food source. The green energy area will supply real-time information about the electricity generated from each installation providing a valuable source of research into green energy.

Additional materials used in the design are mycelium, Breathaboard and Honext Material, the materials fit into the minimalist palette of beige and off black. Honext transform cellulose waste into construction boards created without the use of resins. They come in standard or bespoke sizes and have a wide range a construction applications, they are lighter, have greater thermal and sound absorption properties then drywall or MDF and ultimately 100% recyclable. They can be used as a raw surface or finished with varnish or paint, for this project the boards are used as partitioning for the toilet cubicles and for the construction of bespoke furniture such as the bar, shop counter, shelving and displays. They have a tactile quality with the surface texture similar to linen and where possible will remain unfinished to maximise the potential for reuse, in designing these bespoke pieces consideration has been given to the board size intentionally designing out waste.

social design centre for a circular economy
The bar is constructed with Honext Material, made from cellulosic waste, a glass countertop finishes the bar. Furniture and lighting are by circular designers Van de Sant and Vepa.

Drop ceilings will be installed in the shop area, toilets, kitchen and staff spaces, it was not practical on the upper levels of the ground and first floors to suspend a new floor, these areas also require task lighting for safe and comfortable use, therefore ceiling lights were a necessity. The new ceiling will be constructed from Breathaboard, a natural, sustainable, biodegradable and non-toxic substitute to gypsum plaster board.

Mushroom mycelium is attracting an awful lot of interest, it is a naturally occurring fungus which can be grown. It is multicellular and fast-growing and the fibres can be used the materials such as packaging, clothing, food and construction. Furniture designer Sebastian Cox has developed a stronger but lightweight material by growing the mycelium with waste wood. This principle will be used to form the treads of the stairs, tabletops and seats. It is naturally nonslip making it an appropriate material for the stairs and is ultimately compostable.

social design centre for a circular economy
Zero waste restaurant, mycelium forms the banquet seating and tabletops.

Many of the fixtures, fittings and equipment will be leased rather than purchased,  encouraging the manufacturer to repair and upgrade rather than replace, this business model avoids the planned obsolescence of products that we currently see in the linear economy. Philips will be brought in to design, install and maintain the lighting fixtures (within the parameters designed). The approach is called pay per lumens, where the consumer only pays for the light they use and the actual fixtures and fittings remain the property of the manufacturer and installer.

The functions within the space demonstrate a variety of ways that the circular economy can be applied, they aim to encourage and inform, enabling people to choose a more sustainable future, the approach is honest, information about the design will be available to visitors, it is an inclusive space whilst at the same time being a valuable source of research into new materials and technologies, some of which may be more successful than others.

centre for a circular economy, gallery space
The first floor is home to the quieter functions with a green building and energy space, gallery and library. The gallery supports the displays in the green area, with inspirational installations.

Avoiding waste in the first place is equally as important as ensuring a material or product has the ability to be reused, the furniture repair shop and clothing exchange breathe new life into broken or unwanted possessions. The local produce shop, restaurant and bar have a Zero waste approach and enable consumers to make ethical choices with a minimum of effort.

social design circular design
A library further supports the circular economy and local people. Avoiding the expected gift and book shop generally found in centres of this type.

The space is intended to be a valuable resource for the local community, of specific interest to those involved in construction and the students of Canterbury’s three universities. It should encourage tourism and provide a space where those interested in sustainability can shop, research, learn, share and socialise.

social design circular economy
Building section drawings:The gallery space provides inspirational and informative displays. The main entrance has a recycling area for use by all and leads to the bar area and clothing exchange. The zero waste restaurant is a calm meeting space, supporting the ethics of the centre as a whole.

The creation of a centre for the circular economy does not satisfy a single social need, it satisfies multiple needs. It addresses basic needs such as food and a sustainable approach to construction. By choosing a sustainable future and natural, non-toxic materials, safety is addressed, the inclusive nature of the centre and the social functions encourage relationships. Changing our economy from a linear model to a circular one effects esteem, adding value, self-actualisation is enabled by achieving our sustainability targets, as set out in law by our government. The act of a radically changing the way we live on earth, halting the destruction that we have so far caused, encourages an awareness and a connection with our planet.

In designing this building it was crucial that no design compromises were made, aesthetically or functionally. We cannot expect people to adopt this new approach if it involves compromise, the space must inspire and make living a more sustainable existence accessible and attractive.

The concept ‘inside the box’ applies to the reuse of an existing building, the reuse of materials already in circulation and the act of finding new solutions within the set of constraints imposed by the circular economy.

The most important function of this space is to enlighten those unaware of the circular economy and to conduct research into new materials and technologies available, showcasing them in a single space that will bring manufacturers, consumers and construction professionals together. A large focus has been put on the construction industry because it is the biggest user of virgin materials and creates a large proportion of landfill waste. Buildings are responsible for around 40% of total carbon emissions and therefore addressing this would have radical effect on the environment.

For more information about this project click here 


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