Recycled Materials in Architecture. History of use, current projects and thoughts on future improvement

Project Report, 2015

51 Pages, Grade: 12 - Danish equals to A





1. Introduction

2. Problem formulation

3. Methodology

4. Recycled elements
4.1. History
4.2. Purpose of Recycling
4.3. Materials & Properties
4.3.1. Qualification of Materials
4.3.2. Properties of Materials
4.4. Constructional & Architectural Design Opportunities of Materials
4.5. Common problems
4.6. Existing project examples
4.6.1. Big Dig House
4.6.2. Upcycle House
4.7. Building Regulations
4.8. Introduction to the Bachelor project
4.9. Analysis of Bachelor project
4.9.1. Risk areas
4.9.2. Technical & Design Solutions
4.9.3. Sub-conclusion

5. Thoughts on future improvement

6. Conclusion

7. Vocabulary

8. Bibliography


As a part of Architectural Technology and Construction Management (ATCM) education in order to gain additional knowledge relevant to taught modules at University College of Northern Denmark I am required to provide a research paper for the final 7th semester of a topic of my choice limited by ATCM boundaries only.

Since the first elective project in 3rd semester I started to develop my interest in sustainability ideas in building industry from different perspectives. Therefore, I was already putting my effort in producing the research papers on the following topics: “Passive House Renovation into Active House”, “Acoustics. Materials, Calculations and Design”, “Light in Architecture”. Additionally, I strongly believe, that thinking and creating more sources of information related to sustainable ideas is essential considering the current state of Earth‘s further capabilities to provide human society with natural sources which are used for countless industries, including building industry.

Furthermore, during my 6th semester internship experience, which took place in The Hague, Netherlands, where I had a possibility to work at architectural studio mainly focused on renovation projects made me to realize the importance of existing refurbishment power. However, nowadays the majority of topics relevant to renovations talks about actual building renewing, but myself I got an interest of making a research and exploring what’s happening on the current building industry‘s market when the topic redirects to the idea of designing new projects while incorporating already used materials from other projects or objects.

Combination of both reasons, mentioned in paragraphs above, helped to gain the understanding the necessity of consolidating the ideas of re-used materials in new architecture with the background of how does that affect the basic construction solutions as well as design appearance giving an overall sustainable approach based project.


I have put honest effort and undoubtable interest in final 7th semester elective. However, it would have not been so effective without inspiration from a side. I would like to express my special thanks for my first internship host at StudioSchaeffer, where I have developed my primary interest in recycling itself and University College of Northern Denmark lecturers who were open to take time and discuss my concerns when I needed it. .

Also I would like to thank to my University College and its possibilities to provide me with necessary books for this report and access to official data bases that made my writing time a lot more convenient.

1. Introduction

Material by definition is substance that things are made of. Recycled materials automatically is represented as substances of things that are re-used for other or new purposes. The whole world is compiled out of billions of different materials, some of them are considered to be renewable and some of them unfortunately are unendurable, which leads to the coherent idea that sooner or later the Earth will lose the natural capability to meet human-society needs in terms of amount of existing materials.

Most of materials used in building industry are either organic or human-made goods, which for the records, the majority of time are made out at least partly out of organic natural substances, for instance concrete, brick, glass. It has already been about 8 thousands years, how people are building houses which requires a certain amount of materials. With an increasing number of population, the quantity of building supplies gradually raises, which leads to the concern of dwindling natural sources. For that reason, increasing information amount is becoming essential, explaining the possible ways of saving the sources as well as why is it important, what outcomes may or may not possible come if we do or do not take certain actions.

Since building industry is one of the dominating existing industries, it undoubtedly pursue to the idea that recycled materials usage into building industry for both construction and design might be one of the key actions to be taken in order to achieve sufficient results within the time and to aim more sustainable self-conscious society.

2. Problem formulation

The number of Earth population increases every day gradually. The bigger amount of people has to persist, the more all kind of resources humankind requires. Besides that, minimal social need of human society grown every year. However, Earth is not capable of renewing all its natural assets, which brings the idea, that we are responsible ourselves to find solutions how to sustain our needs of resources in the most efficient way.

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Building industry requires a massive amount of natural1 resources, such as, wood, steel, stone, energy sources (oil, gas), etc., when building new home in good quality, friendly budget is extremely relevant nowadays. According to the chart, building industry consumes 42% of whole steel usage and it’s only one of the examples, which already escalates the relevancy of natural sources for construction. Fortunately, sustainable thinking is becoming more educated and adaptable topic while designing buildings. However, the biggest attention is directed to energy consumption and solutions how to reduce it and use as much renewable energy as possible. After the research in media and 6 month working experience in renovation focused architectural studio, the idea of going deeper about materials re-usage started to appear requisite. In the majority of cases, after lifetime old demolished buildings and other strong structures requiring units, for instance, ships, statues, planes are being reassembled and old materials are wasted. Nonetheless, there is a potential of re-using old materials from already demolished structures, which would increase the level of new buildings sustainability as well as green design thinking in the whole industry.

The possibility to preserve as much natural resources as possible together with focusing on maintaining already existing elements with reducing the amount of producing new ones compliments the whole idea of sustainability in building industry. Being able to design new project incorporating old structures and materials for achieving unique design solutions is a key to the balance and well-being between our needs and Earth capabilities to provide us with natural goodies.

What influence and possibilities have recycled materials in building construction and architectural appearance? Why it is important to incorporate re-used elements in new building industry and what could be applied to Bachelor project?

3. Methodology

This academic paper is based on analysing the situation of recycled elements in building industry and how it affects construction, design, cost management, also getting deeper in materials properties and different solutions that can be applied in building projects - that mostly induce qualitative research methods in the acquisition of data. Because of this, the report is based on a subjectivist world perspective, over positivistic. Since subjectivism in the philosophical theory that ascribes to the individual mind or subject and its sensations, ideas, attitudes, feelings and emotions, I believe that it might have been most suitable to use this method to analyse and interpret the qualitative data that is collected during my previous semesters of education together with the experience gained in internship, as well as the period of elective writing. On the other hand, objectivism is mostly used to base quantitative studies. It puts the observer into the passive consignee frame of external information, which would possible limit the capability of worldviews to only one. For that reason, subjectivism- becomes more correct methodological doctrine, it is able to use all of the viewpoints as another way to approach the existing problem of this report. (Howell, 2013)

Qualitative research method is decided to use for getting new building projects perspective incorporating old materials, which for the matter of act sometimes are considered to be waste, it will be further introduced more exact as in the introduction. The academic paper material is collected from official sources, for instance, Premier Search, Google scholar, and books relevant to sustainable architecture and construction, materials, price books and handbooks of regulations that are found both in the University College of Northern Denmark library and online. In conjunction with ATCM personal gained knowledge it is aimed that the report includes the most suitable examples that could be applied in real life situation and have precise data, supporting them with professional opinions. (Patton, 2007)

4. Recycled elements

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4.1. History

Since the whole research paper and progress is concerned about improving the positive approach about sustainable building industry and using recycled materials for new projects, there is an important input of knowing the origin or the recycling itself as a way to understand more the importance of it nowadays.


Recycling has started centuries ago, there are records based on archaeologists that back in 400 BC people where very much conserve all the sources that they had, since there was a lack of pretty much everything, what made human daily like easier. Saving ashes or broken tools were constancy reused to create some new ones.

Moving on pre-industrial3 times, Japanese culture were already appreciating the value of paper and in 1031 there was found a record about paper reusing. Additionally, in Europe old or broken sculptures out of bronze and other metals were collected and reused for both the same purpose as well as for secondary usage, for instance, weapon casting. There is also known about wood, coal being collected and reused. (Cleveland & Morris, 2013)

When industrialization period occurred, the appeal of affordable materials has increased, such as metals, wood, for then existing economic situation it was more beneficial to amass old materials instead of getting virgin ones. In early 20s century when railroads and automobiles industries were leading, buying scrap and using it was one of the most popular ways to provide mention industries with metal sources. (Zimrin, 2005)

Furthermore, World War II affected the demand of recycling all kind of materials and use it for war purposes dramatically. Every home, touched by war was greatly encouraged to save all possible waste, since the majority of materials was assigned for military while civilian population was left short on pretty much everything essential. With the help of government promotions and propagandas about importance of the war, there was created an image of being patriot once the important materials were donated for war purposes, so it could be reused to fight enemy. (Brinker, 1949)

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Fortunately, post-war/modern times started to be more appealing towards sustainability. The stimulation was inspired by increasing costs of energy, which started happening in 1970s and was mainly caused because of aluminium, other metals, paper and glass. Since today the main motivation to recycle materials is the positive effect on budget, there is known, that for example about 30% of the house cost goes to building’s foundation - reusing some of these materials can be extremely beneficial. Additionally, according to researches on statistics, the EU average of recycling waste is 38% (up to 63% for dominant countries) by 2013. Besides economic pros, gladly XXI century is very open and getting more educated about the recycling effect on sustainability and importance to bring this message to everybody. 4

4.2. Purpose of Recycling

Why recycling is faithfully should be relevant for society, the current world‘s situation regarding sustainability answers that. The ability to maintain the certain actions in excising system - sustainability, for example, keep the natural Earth sources on as long existing as possible, it is the important part of the recycling roots.

It is important pointing out, that recycling is actually participating into whole sustainability idea, which is an essential, when there are known facts about current situation, such as: by 2050 population will dramatically increase to 9 billion inhabitants, which leads to rapidly growing usage of all kind of supplies, almost half of forests are gone by now, since 1975 in more developed countries waste increased by 1/3, etc.5 All this information leading to the conclusion - there is increasing demand and decreasing supply, which logically follows the idea, that each of the all industry sectors must take a part in developing and incorporating more and more green, sustainable ideas into businesses.

Recycled materials by definition according to Business Dictionary6 is “Raw or processed materials that can be recovered from waste steam for reuse”. Materials that can be recycled includes many types, for instance, glass, wood, steel, plastic, etc., as well substances as biological waste like food, gardening leftovers.

There is mostly popular approach teaching us about how to give second life for old/not suitable for function material, however, not that much positivism towards the idea of giving the materials second and different “life”. By that I mean, nowadays, the majority of reused materials are things like old paper being recycled to freshly new paper or old soda’s cans to new shiny cans for drinks and reused for the same purpose for about 20 times statistically. I am not stating that it is not a smart action that society is putting effort in, indeed it’s extremely advantageous for the general Earth sustainability.7

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The graph (no6) present statistically averaging impacts over multiple recycling times for metal materials, which proves the beneficially of increasing materials using again after first life-cycle ends. Environmental impact is expressed as hypothetical units from 1 to 10, which lets to understand, that if first time used metal created negative impact for environment is equals to 10 units. While starting from the second life-cycle of material damage significantly decreases to 3 units the same level stays further, since metal is entirely recyclable material without much significant waste, which will be deeper discussed in next paragraphs.

After all, as a believer into green building industry, I see lots of pros of incorporating various of old materials in creating new and possibly use them for new purposes, such as taking old shipping containers and using them as a part of construction, using old beams for new structures, etc.

4.3. Materials & Properties

4.3.1. Qualification of Materials

This chapter is going to present several of materials according to different classes, which are listed below. This is supposed to give a better overview and understanding on what materials can be reused for the same or/and different purpose, advantageous in building industry. There are two main categories of materials: not organic and organic.

Non- organic:

- Glass (window glass part, vine glass)
- Metal (ships, planes, cars, steel beams, containers, metal furniture, parts of electronic devices, window frames)
- Concrete (construction parts, old foundations, bridges)
- Stone
- Minerals
- Synthetic fabric (clothing, domestic and commercial fabrics used for furniture) x Plastic (furniture, panels of devices)
- Rubber (tires)


- Wood (furniture, ships, bridges, constructions, paper)
- Natural fabric (wool, silk, cotton, leather)
- Food waste (composting)
- Clay (brick, tile)

These are the main materials (except food waste) that are used to compose different kind of items and elements, used in building industry, all of them can be recycled and used to one of another purpose. Further in the next chapter there is going to be presented the possibilities of favour in architecture of actual elements reuse from focusing on building industry recycled elements.

4.3.2. Properties of Materials

A big part of success to brighter, greener society’s future is the attitude of maintaining and saving what is existing, instead of consuming it. The following information gives a motivating perspective about today’s possibilities that modern population have with a help of developed advanced technologies and time tested methods for materials reusing. There will be discussed features of main building materials and how can they be adapted into nowadays architecture

Every material have different potential and sustainability/financial/ethical value, which affect decisions which elements needs bigger attention for being reused. There are 4 main materials leading in architecture: wood, steel, concrete and glass. All of them have different features and recyclability percentages. Additionally, some materials are considered to be relatively infinitely recyclable, such as metals, which means, they can be reused countless times and not to loss equally satisfying result. While on the other hand, concrete is down-cycling material - when that type of element is reused, most of the cases in can only be recycled into lower grade element because after the recycling processes properties of the materials decreases in quality relatively.

4.3.3. Down cycling

Let‘s get to know what happens to structural frames of most commonly used materials after they are being demolished in service ended buildings and structures. After that, every listed material is going to be represented in deeper contents and features which is necessary for achieving recycling friendly attitude knowing its advantages.

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- Concrete - down cycling material, which in most of demolition cases is crushed to small
pieces and used for new buildings fill or/and sub-base. The value of material decreases significantly from primary element, which possibly was concrete slabs for partitions, walls, or foundation. According to the picture, only about 5% of concrete is wasted to landfill, while great ¾ of material usually down cycles, which gives 20% of left materials that is recycled for new projects.
- Timber- accurate information about timber end-of-life scenario is very difficult to find,
however BRE Green Guide - “Expert, impartial research, knowledge and advice for the built environment sector and beyond.9 Provides conclusion of research that wood industry is experiencing the pressure due to need to decrease the amount of waste going to landfills (58%). The major problem is the timber contamination that creates extra 6% of wood which has to be burnt, next to it other 10% down cycles because of the timber properties. The end-of-life process finishes with only 13% successfully left materials that can be used for new structures to design.
- Steel - the biggest advantage of steel is its great peculiar value, which is partly thankful to well refined scrap collection infrastructure. This material can be recycled to equally high quality products or even higher as original one if wished. Another pros in building construction is that steel structures tend to be large elements, which are easy to collect at the end of the life span of old construction. Only 1% of material goes as waste to landfills while 93% or more can be recycled and used for load-bearing and/or other structures in new buildings.

(Christensen, 2009)

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The chart above is created using estimations according to Load-Bearing Construction Compendium, provided by University College of Northern Denmark and BRE Green Guide official statistics. The listed information presents different properties of several main constructional elements: concrete, steel, timber and glass. The table helps to get a better overview on differences between every materials, which is important while making decisions about how old materials can be reused or recycled basing on its life span, weight density- presenting materials strength and the most important feature - recyclability that increases sustainable value of the materials.

Knowing the value of materials could be helpful during old buildings’ demolition phase, when some elements are collected for the waste and some - higher quality and with bigger potential reuse and/or recycling level. For example, investing into collecting steel elements probably is more efficient idea, since, there is known, that this materials have recyclability of about 93% which is significantly higher than clay or glass, for instance.

On the other hand, financial perspective is not the main focus area of this research paper- sustainability in building industry is. Not forgetting, that sustainability cares about maintaining and not wasting natural resources that we currently have and decreasing the level of consumption gradually, while incorporating recycling and reusing already existing elements, which are out of order or not proper to serve for longer. Together with this approach, considering investing into materials, that is not at that high recyclability level as steel does not seem such a waste. The further information presents advantages of incorporating main constructional materials as reclaimed resources.

4.3.4. Materials

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten Timber

Current situation of natural forests and how fast they are getting smaller with increasing deforestation, timber recycling is one of the saviours, which needs to be talked, educated about and actually done. There are presented pros of incorporating salvaged timber elements into new building projects. 10

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There are some discussions among scientist about being in favour of timber elements over concrete and steel, which follows to the idea, that lumber recyclability might be increasing its reason to be activated as much as possible. First of all, as already mentioned in this research paper, wood in the only renewable source out of mentioned 4 main building materials. Trees eliminates carbon out of Earth’s atmosphere, which one of the most valid reasons to consider wooden elements as essentially recyclable in order to keep environment healthier.11

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Based on Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials (CORRIM) institute, there has been made certain conclusions about building construction’s materials and carbon dioxide relation. There is known that timber net reduction on CO2 is 55 metric tons, while steel requires about 150% more CO2 for the same purpose served in building construction, to be more exact it is registered as 185 metric tons. (Calkins, 2009)

On the other hand, there is known, that recycled timber is often treated with chemicals, which might be harmful, if the wooden elements needs to be refurbished and reused. However, there are mainly two methods, which proves, that timber can be prepared for reused if it was effected by copper board treated (CCA) toxic heavy metals. This is mostly common for lumber which was installed from about 1970s’, usually builders while demolishing old constructions separate CCA affected wooden elements from the rest. For that reason, a lot of load- bearing structures has been affected by this toxic materials and often there is decided simply to landfill it, however, if there is a wish to recycle as much timber constructions for further usage, it can be done even it has been negatively affected. First of all, the process of using anaerobic pyrolysis12 and separate the toxic part from damaged timber pieces. This technique is based on withdrawal of chemicals from material’s fibre by decreasing the total mass of timber element.





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12 Vocabulary

Excerpt out of 51 pages


Recycled Materials in Architecture. History of use, current projects and thoughts on future improvement
University College of Northern Denmark  (Technology)
Architectural Technology
12 - Danish equals to A
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
4023 KB
The author of this text is not a native English speaker. Please excuse any grammatical errors and other inconsistencies.
recycled materials, architecture, building, construction
Quote paper
Sandra Petkute (Author), 2015, Recycled Materials in Architecture. History of use, current projects and thoughts on future improvement, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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