• Elias Messinas

Design in circular economy

Ecoweek, Thessaloniki 2015, Workshop 6, tutor: Johannes Peter Steidl

The Earth is round. Even a small child knows that. But for many generations, people believed that the Earth is flat – linear – and if they dared to think otherwise they were punished severely. Today, with all our knowledge and progress, we still think that economies and production processes ought to be linear. That is, from extraction, to production, to transportation, to consumption, they end up as waste, and that is okay. But it is not okay. Because turning Earth’s resources into waste, cannot last forever, as the Earth is finite, and therefore its resources are limited. Every introductory class in Economics, will tell you that although people’s wants and needs are unlimited, our resources to satisfy them are – unfortunately – limited.

Take plastics for example. We have become accustomed to using single-use plastics, in wrappings, plastic bags, plastic bottles and containers for their convenience. But, as a result, for this single-use convenience, we produce over 300 million tons of plastic every year. Of that, 50% is for single-use purposes. This means that its lifespan is very short, but it remains on the planet as waste for at least several hundred years. More than 8 million tons of the plastic waste is dumped into the oceans every year. These plastics are consumed by fish, birds, and other living creatures who live in and around the oceans, ending up eating our plastic waste. Many suffocating to death. Scientists predict that by 2050 we will have more plastic waste in the oceans than fish. Considering that fish is part of our diet, if we end up putting on our plate more plastic than fish, then we ought to be very concerned.

Buildings also produce waste. We may object when we hear of old buildings or neighborhoods being demolished to clear the land for new development. But, the true reason of concern should be demolition itself: the waste and pollution it causes. About 20 million tons of construction waste is produced annually, which depending on the country, only part of it is recycled and the rest is either landfilled or it is dumped in nature – forests, hills, mountains, water sources. This waste includes products like bricks, soil, tiles, ceramics and wood, which could very well be sorted and reused as materials for new projects – as it is being already done in many countries around the world. In the Netherlands, for example, the Harvest Map, is a database that serves architects, planners, and contractors, providing them access to existing materials from demolition, available to be used in new projects. This, on one hand conserves valuable natural resources and reduces the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill. On the other hand, it reduces the cost of purchasing new materials, and challenges architects and designers to be more creative and adaptive in their work. Their projects become more creative and innovative, and they are also good to the environment.

Therefore, it is about time, that we realize that economies ought to be circular, instead of linear. A circular economy is an economy that eliminates waste and aims towards the continual use of resources. Resources are reclaimed and re-used so that no new extraction is necessary. Materials are used in cycles, without ending up as waste, filling landfills and polluting sensitive ecosystems. If they end up as waste, their waste can be a resource too. For example, in a paint factory in Germany which is using only natural ingredients for its products, the waste of the production process is composted – yes, composted as natural organic waste – and then, used as fertilizer to grow new natural ingredients for new paints. If the linear economy produces waste as the end product, the circular economy either eliminates waste or turns it into a resource.

Ecoweek, Thessaloniki 2015, Workshop 5, tutor: Anja Markwart and Thomas Kauertz

To make the principles of circular economy in Architecture and Design, ECOWEEK held its first online conference and design workshops on May 16-17. Architects and designers from around the world, gathered to learn about circular economy, and its innovative applications in architecture, planning and design.

The event was attended by more than 200 young and established professionals from more than 20 countries around the globe. Speakers from Europe shared their experience in design innovation to create new products and eliminate waste. For example, how to reuse old building components for new buildings. How to dismantle buildings to create new ones. How to harvest materials and share resources from one construction site to another. How to use innovation and robotics to three-dimensionally print new products out of plastic waste. How to introduce nanotechnology for new smart materials that improve others – including coatings to protect from the spread of pandemics. How to integrate renewable energy in buildings, and introduce new lifestyles where growing one’s food, walking and biking are built-in in the urban experience.

The circular model for the economy is slowly being adopted at global level. Europe, aiming to make European economies more sustainable and European cities healthier, has drafted very detailed guidelines, targets and deadlines. This regulation, combined with the need to re-invent public space and institutions for the reopening after the COVID-19 pandemic, may very well introduce new models to design the building, public space, and cities of tomorrow.

Elias Messinas is an architect and environmental consultant, founding chairman of NGO ECOWEEK and editor of the Book#1: 50 Voices for Sustainability (

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