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  • Byron Chan

Circular Series: RIBA Stage 5

Reaching the halfway mark in the ACAN's Circular Series, the next session covers RIBA Stage 5 with presentations by Peter Swallow from Grimshaw Architects and Peter Kelly from ISG focusing on applying the circular economy to manufacturing and construction.


Held on 25th March 2021, our virtual event 'Circular Series: RIBA Stage 5' available to watch in full above, offers some fresh insights into preparing information for handover, discussing the challenges of reuse on projects and the value of working with contractors early in the process.

Preparing document for disassembly

Civil Engineering Building (source: Grimshaw Architects)

When the project is approaching Practical Completion, preparations for the handover typically involve the compilation of the building manual and associated documentation. To enable the circular economy to work, the information should also demonstrate how the building will be adapted and disassembled in future.

Using the Civil Engineering Building in Cambridge as a case study, Swallow highlighted how it was important to include disassembly and adaptability strategies in the documentation for the client. These considerations was explained in the technical design and construction.

Several aspects which were considered:

  • Drawings showed how the steel structure have been bolted together so they could be later taken apart, how to remove precast concrete planks and how the demountable rain screen cassette panels could be removed.

  • A BIM model providing data of the tagged steelwork was initially planned although in the end the engineering company Ramboll produced a report showing the structural adaption and deconstruction so the steelwork could be reclaimed.

  • Adaptability strategies involved the use of modular construction with a simple grid layout so bays could be removed or added in future. Standardised rather than bespoke components were chosen and pre-planned penetrations in structure were located in the information for planning future services.

So when planning these aspects in the construction, it is equally vital to record this disassembly and adaption information in a easily digestible document can help inform the client and the future design team when planning future changes to the building.

Photograph of building details and associated technical drawings (source: Smith & Wallwork, Ramboll)

Overcoming barriers with reuse

By discussing reuse in construction, Kelly highlighted some of the barriers being “the [lack of] storage, the classification and knowledge of what’s available [which serves as] a hindrance to the circular economy.” To resolve issues of storage, ISG have previously relied on waste contractors to provide storage space for salvaged materials for use on their own projects.

Kelly also stressed the difficulties in finding reusable materials when they are needed at the right time. On occasion, ISG have been fortunate enough to identify reusable items from their own projects to use elsewhere. For an office project in Cambridge, they reused an oak reception desk designed by Piercy&Company from a London project they worked on which would have otherwise been binned.

The issue of supply and demand could be better addressed through better documentation and systems like material passports to make it easier to identify reusable assets in future projects. Swallow mentioned the EU funded Circuit project being an example of where they are trying to develop a material catalogue as a solution.

Collaboration is key

Swallow and Kelly both agreed that collaboration is crucial in supporting the circular economy. On a wider level, ISG has formed partnerships by working with suppliers who provide take back schemes and re-warranty used items such as lighting and equipment. On several projects, Kelly demonstrated how engaging with contractors, suppliers and manufacturers can be beneficial to get information on salvaged materials or to look into reusing products found on existing buildings.

Swallow recommended bringing in contractors early in the design process to find the middle ground between circular design aspirations and what can be achieved realistically on site. In the case of the Civil Engineering Building, Grimshaw developed a bespoke precast concrete plank with bolted connections with the structural engineer. Though they initially received encouraging feedback from the market at design stage, when contractors interrogated this during the tender process it was found there was not the appetite from the market to take on this bespoke element. While the result could have been different, the lesson is that having contractors in early to develop and test the proposal could have potentially led to a more positive outcome.

Bespoke precast concrete plank (source: Smith & Wallwork)


Speaker bios

Peter Swallow, BA (Hons), B.Arch, ARB

Associate l Sustainability Manager, UK & Europe, Grimshaw

Peter is based at Grimshaw's London studio, supporting the practice to meet its commitments to design exclusively net zero carbon ready buildings and infrastructure by 2025 and delivering socially and environmentally regenerative designs by 2030. He leads Grimshaw’s contribution to the EU funded CIRCUIT project, focusing on research in upscaling circular construction in regenerative cities. He also contributes regularly to the Recourse Efficiency in Construction and the Built Environment (RECBE) group run by the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering.

Peter Kelly, BSc (Hons), MSc, CIEMA

Director of Sustainable Operations, ISG Ltd

With 20 years' experience in the construction industry, Peter currently sits as the Director for Sustainable Operations at ISG Ltd. and is responsible for the delivery of sustainability policies and strategies. Bringing in specialist knowledge of circular economy, he supports the company’s ambitions to pursue a resource efficient, low carbon future. At present, Peter participates in the Green Construction Board’s Resources & Waste Task Group and chairs the CIWM Construction and Demolition Waste Forum setting the agenda for waste prevention and the implementation of circular economy principles across the construction sector in tandem with regulators and policy makers.


Knowledge hub sharing information and events on circular construction approaches and their applications in EU cities


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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