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  • Harriet Thorpe

Circular series: RIBA Stage 4

Next up in the ACAN's Circular Series, speakers Dr. Elma Durmisēvić, Director from 4D architects, and Nitesh Magdani, founder of Net Positive Solutions, discussed how circular design principles and thinking can be applied at RIBA Stage 4.


This event examined applying circular strategies at RIBA Stage 4, Technical Design, during which designers develop their design in sufficient detail for tendering and construction assembly delivery on site. This step includes decisions on construction details, choice of materials and standards of workmanship, and architects will respond to queries set out in the design responsibility matrix.

For this talk, ACAN’s Matthew Morris, spoke to Dr. Elma Durmisēvić, architect and director of 4D architects in Amsterdam, and Nitesh Magdani, founder of Net Positive Solutions, about applying circular principles and thinking at this stage of the design process. Durmisēvić spoke about reversible building design, and Magdani stepped back to think about applying circular thinking in collaboration with construction professionals, clients and across supply chains.

Reversible buildings

Durmisēvić’s work and research focusses on developing new tools and ways of thinking to support ‘reversible buildings’. She is fascinated by the notion of a flexible, transformable, reversible, ‘circular building’ as a much more sustainable and responsible way of designing.

“Conventionally buildings have been designed as static structures, designed for one end of life. With every iteration, demolition needs to take place. A reversible building is a dynamic structure built of exchangeable parts and modules which can be recovered, used, and recycled in new sites.”

Instead of a static entity, a reversible building has multiple layers and gains multiple future capacities.

“The mental mistake and error that we have built into the design of buildings and their construction is that we see them as static structures. If the very purpose of a building is to provide an envelope for human activities and life, how do we think that the ever increasing changes of human life and ways of living can fit into a once designed structure that is not meant to be recovered, adapted or its materials reused?”

Durmisēvić connects mass demolition to this single use style of designing. Not designing for new requirements and technological changes results in the huge negative impact on the environment and economics.

"If I see demolition happening, I would say there is a design mistake" – Dr. Elma Durmisēvić

“If I see demolition happening, I would say there is a design mistake. It is on the design table where we can configure where materials will end up in the future. If we don’t think through the future scenarios for buildings, then demolition will happen. We need to design upgradeable environments, so when construction happens, it is not organised around demolition, but upgrading, transforming and reconfiguring parts.”

As well as implementing these into the design process, Durmisēvić notes collaborators need to change their processes for it to work too. For example, asking clients to come up with the future use scenarios, by making demographic studies of the city and its future needs. Once these scenarios have been established, a building system can be designed to accommodate them.

The new task for architects and designers is to design for these multiple propositions, which must be supported by a high disassembly and reuse potential. Within her Reversible building toolkit, Durmisēvić defines three key areas that should be taken into account: space, structure and materials. These are each then measured against the core circular and reversible building principles of disassembly, adaption and reuse. Her assessment tool feeds into a colour coded design in BIM, that can be easily read and supplied for construction.

After this, the next important step is for designers to look into implementation, such as thinking about new materials. Durmisēvić is working with steel manufacturer Jansen, on new products that will help the future reversibility of building elements. She is also working on a building case study, the Laboratory for Green Transferable buildings in Amsterdam, currently under construction, that will demonstrate how these principles can be implemented.

Circular economy business models

Magdani focussed on how architects might gain competitive advantage through designing and planning for the circular economy. As the founder of Net Positive Solutions, a sustainable business consultancy, with former experience at Royal BAM, the Netherlands largest construction company, he has been exposed to many live construction projects in UK and Netherlands.

He explained how having a broader understanding of how we could shift from having a very short term mindset, to looking at value over a long term is important. He pointed at the findings of economists such as Sir Nicholas Stren who has linked our linear consumption patterns with market failure, and Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta who states in a recent review how we need to fix the disconnect between GDP, or financial wealth, and natural capital – and that doesn’t just go for natural capital, also human and social capital.

“While you do need to start with design, circular economy is broader than just design, it also requires a lot of collaboration, systems thinking, and opens the door to new business models.”

For example, if you increase biodiversity on a site, or design for deconstruction, how does that effects social and human capital, or financial capital over the life cycle of a project? Helping people understand that value, can identify new opportunities and turn it into a competitive advantage. Assets need to be identified with forethought, such as specifying meanwhile use, or opportunities for waste to be reused or repurposed before recycling.

“Waste is a mistake. Waste is material in the wrong place,” says Magdani. Waste is an opportunity – applying circular economy opportunities to reuse materials could entail identifying new products and services, looking at the sharing economy and the performance economy – and also generally shaking up the way we do business. “It’s not going to change just by designing in a different way, if we have the same contracts, the same incentivisation, tender and procurement.”

Magdani explained how some key lessons have been learnt at some pioneering projects. At CIRCL in Amsterdam, a BAM built project funded by ABN AMRO bank which was seeking to invest in sustainability, the aim was to demonstrate what circularity was. As well as elements such as materials including glulam beams, CLT, and a clipped façade, it was also important to have early contractor and supply chain involvement, as well as a focus on life cycle-thinking.

Another, ongoing case study, is Bijlmerbajes in the Netherlands, commissioned by Amsterdam City Council. Within an SOM Masterplan for the neighbourhood, BAM are addressing how the prison will be converted with maximum reuse – from concrete, which will be crushed to aggregate or reused in original form, to the steel prison bars to be reused as balcony railings. This project has shown how new types of procurement models and supply chain engagement are important to the circularity of this project.

Magdani sees the manufacturing industry taking on an important role in the future. They will be more related to their products once they have left the factory. When we use a product, we will be able to trace it back to exactly who produced it, through a material passport. Producers will be responsible for it and contracts will be set up for maintaining and eventually returning it.

Another aspect that will be changing is how clients manage the building’s information and ensure that maintenance regimes are proactive, he explains. There is huge potential in developing material exchange platforms. In the Netherlands, the term demolition contractor is going away, and it is being replaced with ‘urban miner’ – a company that goes it to look at how to retrieve wealth from existing building assets. We need to be looking at the environment that is already built, says Magdani.

“Waste is a mistake. Waste is material in the wrong place” – Nitesh Magdani


Speaker bios

Dr. Elma Durmisēvić, BNA

Founding Director of 4D architects, Founder of European Laboratory for Green Transformable Building and Green Design Centre for South East Europe, PhD at Delft University of Technology on Transformable Building Structures - Design for Disassembly in Architecture

As both a practitioner and researcher, Dr. Durmisevic has led projects and research into reversible design building systems and circular design in EU projects. She developed design guidelines and tools for measuring circularity and reversibility such as: Reversible BIM module, Reuse Potential tool, Transformation Capacity Tool. She also founded digital knowledge platforms for circular buildings such as Laboratory for Green Transformable Buildings and leads development of EU Digital Deconstruction Platform for circular economy in construction.

Nitesh Magdani, RIBA ARB

Director and Founder of Net Positive Solutions

Nitesh has over 20 years of experience working across the areas of design, construction, and property development, acting as an Architect and sustainability expert. He has also held leadership roles at Royal BAM Group and with the Supply Chain Sustainability School. Nitesh works with clients and stakeholders to co-create solutions towards a net zero and circular economy future.

Nitesh developed the circular economy strategy at BAM, including BAM’s engagement with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, co-authored a publication on circular business models, and has been influential in several circular economy projects, both in the UK and in the Netherlands.


Get involved

The ACAN Circular Economy Group is working to push for a radical shift in the construction industry so that all buildings in the UK are designed and built in line with circular economy principles. It is our mission to reimagine current building practices to enable regenerative design at all scales and stages of a project, and for the construction industry to have a positive impact on human and planetary health.

Interested in contributing to the ACAN Circular Economy Group?

Please contact us for details on how to join.

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