To lower carbon emissions on the scale needed in the UK, we need to move beyond the current ‘materials’ focus of circular economy, to a comprehensive discussion on the circular approach to regeneration.
The starting point for a circular approach to regeneration is looking at a client’s motivations for regeneration, then looking to what is already in place that can be preserved, enhanced and transformed. This process involves going beyond analysing reuse potential on a material level, to understanding how to preserve and enhance the social, cultural and economical values of an area. This might be established businesses within an area, the characteristics that make it an interesting and attractive place to live, or emotional and cultural attachments established over long periods of time.
A circular approach to regeneration is about creating new sustainable designs and environments that can evolve over time, using spaces, resources and materials efficiently. The term “circularity” can be broadened further to include the need for renewable energy in local systems, including water management and circular approaches to processing waste.
Taking GLA’s London Plan for example, it could be so much broader in its vision if it moved beyond a housing focus to consider other land uses, food and energy production, and the central notion of the 15-minute neighbourhood. We feel there is a great opportunity here to move from a linear plan to a much more circular framework of thought, on a broad and city-wide scale.
At White Arkietkter, we are currently working on a very unique project, in a town in northern Sweden, that demonstrates some aspects of this circular regeneration approach. Due to mining operations, the town of Kiruna is being entirely relocated, approximately two miles east. As part of this process key historical buildings and landmarks will be lifted and relocated or dismantled and reconstructed in their entirety, including the much-loved clock tower – preserving both the town’s existing materials, and its collective memory and charcter, in a resource-efficient way.
Kiruna © White Arkitekter
Carlsberg City District in Copenhagen is another exceptional example. In this new and dynamic neighbourhood, many of the industrial buildings in the area are being repurposed, while almost 100% of materials from those torn down have been recycled, including bricks reused in new structures and concrete crushed to fill roads - retaining both the material and the nostalgic value of the city’s iconic brewery in the process.
In terms of the circular approach to estate regeneration, Erik Stenberg, head of the KTH School of Architecture in Stockholm, has been carrying out fascinating work over the last decade, redesigning existing apartments in order to conserve the modernist housing stock that exists on a huge scale in Stockholm’s suburbs, while meeting today’s living requirements.
Here in the UK, we have worked with the local authority, developer, and the community on a placemaking framework for the Gascoigne Estate in east London, and have managed to help preserve over 50 per cent of the estate, while designing an additional new low-carbon, landscape-led neighbourhood to transform it for the future.
Essentially all these projects show that by taking care of what already exists, we can start the transition towards a modern, low carbon, circular future today, creating places that are culturally and economically enriched in the process. London needs to take note, and keep in step.
Gascoigne West © White Arkitekter