The built environment, together with civil and hydraulic engineering, is responsible for about 50% of raw material consumption in the Netherlands. In addition, the built environment uses about 40% of the total amount of energy and 30% of all the water. Besides new construction projects, much work needs to be done on existing buildings over the coming years, for instance to help create a zero-energy built environment. This enormous challenge offers the construction sector many opportunities to get started with circular principles.

Aspects of circular building

For a circular built environment, the following two principles are especially relevant:

  • circular design - designed for disassembly and multifunctional; and,
  • Circular material selection - new or reused.

Always validate your circular ambitions through market consultation as the main concerns may vary per project.

Circular design: designed for disassembly and multifunctional

A building consists of many elements. Each element has particular function and its own life cycle. This is illustrated in the model below that shows the six ‘layers’ of a building. For example, a facade (skin) has a technical life cycle of 20-40 years, while the furnishing (space plan) has a life cycle of about 10 years.

A key principle in circular building is the ability to disassemble the various layers of a building. This ensures that elements can be adjusted or replaced as needed, without loss of value in the other layers.

Making a building multifunctional is a circular design principle as well. If it is possible to adjust the function of a building during the life cycle, the value of the building is preserved when the original function becomes obsolete over time.

Finally, there may be a temporary need for a particular function. ‘Temporary’ constructions, too, are considered to be circular, because they can be disassembled. Examples include the Temporary Courthouse in Amsterdam, or The Green House restaurant (Dutch) in Utrecht.

The various ‘layers’ of a building, that should be easy to disassemble based on functionality and life cycle. Source: Brand (1994), How Buildings Learn
The various ‘layers’ of a building, that should be easy to disassemble based on functionality and life cycle. Source: Brand (1994), How Buildings Learn

Circular material selection: new or reused?

Material selection is a key aspect of circular building. There are several ‘circular material’ options:

  • Reused materials or materials based on reused raw materials (such as concrete with reused concrete granules).
  • Reused products, such as bricks from StoneCycling or window frames from New Horizon (Dutch).
  • Materials or products that can be reused in the future, such as the metal framework used in The Green House (Dutch).
  • Biobased products, such as the wooden construction of the Circl Pavilion (Dutch).

Select circular materials that are suited to the context of your project. Are you combining demolition and construction in your tender, and do they take place in succession? In that case, try to find ways to use raw materials from demolition for the construction work. Of course, timing is of the essence if the materials need to be reused. Are you constructing a new building in a natural environment? In that case, your focus should be on biobased materials.

Circular demolition

Is demolition of a building inevitable? Determine how to achieve the highest reuse value of the generated materials. Depending on the state of the building, it may contain components or products that can be used elsewhere. If this is not possible you should aim for reuse of materials. It is important to bear in mind that ‘circular demolition’ (or rather disassembly) of a building takes more time than traditional demolition. Careful disassembly into its components is more time-consuming than using a wrecking ball but retains more material value. One example of a business that disassembles buildings is New Horizon (Dutch).

8 circular buildings, 8 definitions of circularity

There is no single definition of ‘a circular building’. The circular buildings in the Netherlands that are often used as examples, each have a unique story to tell, focussing on different aspects of circularity. Eight different examples include:

  • Park 2020, Hoofddorp: the design of this new business park is based on cradle-to-cradle principles. Healthy materials were used to increase productivity and reduce sick-leave.
  • Garden City Overtoom, Amsterdam (Dutch): a project comprising demolition and new construction that reused more than 95% of the demolition materials in the new buildings.
  • Alliander, Duiven (Dutch): a large-scale transformation in which the existing buildings were preserved and covered, with high value retention of materials as a result. Design for future disassembly has also been a guiding principle.
  • Municipal offices, Venlo: new municipal offices that have been designed based on Cradle-to-Cradle principles. The intention of the municipality of Venlo was to create a healthier city (a green facade to purify the air) and create a healthier working environment (lots of light, plants and fresh air).
  • Temporary Courthouse, Amsterdam:a temporary building that can be disassembled. It will be used for five years during the demolition and construction of Amsterdam's courthouse. Once the new courthouse is completed, the temporary building will be disassembled and can be used elsewhere.
  • Royal Haskoning DHV, Amsterdam (Dutch): a new office environment created in an existing building that formerly housed a car dealer. The building had been empty for some years and was likely to be demolished in the long term. A lot of reused materials have been used in the refurbishment of the offices.
  • Circl, Amsterdam (Dutch): a restaurant pavilion constructed with as much reused material as possible. The building can be completely disassembled as well, driven by the desire of the owner (ABN AMRO) to experiment with circularity.
  • The Green House, Utrecht (Dutch): a restaurant pavilion that was constructed as a temporary solution to be disassembled after 10 years. Many components have been reused or are purchased ‘as-a-service’.


  • Explain to the market why your organisation wants a circular building. Determine on which aspect your focus should be, based on your needs and the scope of your tender: for example, reuse of existing material or future disassembly.
  • Whenever possible, focus on the ability to disassemble the various elements of a building, both for new buildings and renovations.
  • Get inspired by visiting one of the circular buildings. Most project managers will be happy to tell you their story and show you around!

Inspiring examples

Background information

Suggestions and/or additions?