Circular London: Building a renewable city

27 July 2023

Circular Economy NLA Research Report Cover

NLA’s latest research paper looks at strategies, best practices and challenges that are pushing the boundaries to build a circular city.

The Mayor has set ambitious targets for London to be a zero-carbon city by 2030. If we are to achieve carbon neutrality our priorities must include retaining buildings and infrastructure while making them more environmentally sustainable and replacing the end-of-life concept with re-use, re-purpose and recycle.

Pursuing a circular economy is vital in reaching our sustainable goals. FCBStudios Associate, Tim den Dekker is part of the LETI Circular Economy Workstream and one of the Part Z authors, advocating government regulation of Embodied Carbon – one of the strategies recommended in this NLA report.

“Embracing circularity in the built environment will change how we measure success in architecture. It means celebrating refurbishments over new builds.” Ashley Bateson, Director, Hoare Lea and Chair, NLA Expert Panel on Net Zero. The report includes a number of examples of projects – in London and beyond – that are leading the way.

The refurbishment of two buildings on the BRE Campus was intended as an exemplar project, a repeatable and cost-effective approach to providing adaptable, healthy and low-carbon workspaces. The refurbishment prioritised low embodied carbon materials, local supply and reuse of existing materials where possible—carpets, ceiling tiles, lighting fixtures and timber partition studs—and the refurbishment of existing furniture. Taking a ‘long-life, loose-fit’ approach to fit-out allows the buildings to adapt to market demand and alternative future uses. We calculated a saving of 31,768kgCO2e—a 34 per cent reduction in lifecycle embodied carbon for the refurbished items.

Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings is also included as a case study. Built as a Flaxmill in the Georgian era, it was the world’s first iron-framed structure. Since then it has been adapted and reused - as a maltings, a barracks and now, following a major restoration project, as a mix of cultural and commercial space. Heritage buildings such as this bring far more than a building, they also bring history and connection to the community that has a wider impact on an area.

A circular economy of construction encourages us to value what we already have, in terms of heritage buildings and existing stock.

We are proud to be part of the Circular London Report, and proud to have a strong line in Creative Reuse work at the practice. Download the report