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Steel goes circular: The Circular Building

ArcelorMittal has helped construct a prototype for the most reusable building yet. The structure is intended to be entirely reused, remanufactured or recycled and is on show as part of The London Design Festival.

The Circular Building, exhibited at the Building Centre in Store Street for the duration of the festival, which runs 17-25 September 2016, answers the question: Can we design a building whose components can all be reused, remade or recycled when it has reached the end of its life?

The answer, it turns out, is yes. But to achieve it requires a radical shift in thinking because completely different design and construction priorities are needed from the first day of the project. Although for this reason, a circular economy can’t be delivered by any one individual company, projects like this demonstrate what can be done when leaders from across the construction sector put their heads together. Alan Knight, general manager, corporate responsibility, ArcelorMittal explains:

“Taking part in the Circular Building project has taught us a lot about the value of effective planning and communication, not just between project partners, but also within our own global business. We’re already applying what we’ve learned to design beams which are easier to reuse and are looking at how flat and long products will need to work together if we are to take more of the modular building market.”

Throughout this task, ArcelorMittal and its partners; design firm Arup, construction group BAM and façade specialists Frener & Reifer; collaborated to demonstrate how circular economy thinking can be applied to the built environment. ArcelorMittal supplied a tonne of steel beams from Luxembourg for the structure, which fabrication company Victor Buyck Steel Construction cut, prepared and assembled onsite.

“Although steel is eminently recyclable, and reusable, the focus until now has been primarily on melting down scrap steel to make new products. Our recycling rate is as high as it can be, so if we are to reduce our carbon emissions, we have to look at other ways of doing it. Reuse rates of steel are low, so reusing more steel – and its by-products – is the next logical step for ArcelorMittal’s sustainability agenda. 

“The Circular Building project has tested the concept of designing to reuse building materials. It’s proven it can be done if the customer, architect, builders and suppliers collaborate to put reuse at the centre of the project right from the design stage, and that’s very exciting. The challenge is that it’s often easier and cheaper to throw products away and start again, rather than repair or reuse them,” Knight said.

ArcelorMittal is already finding ways to overcome such challenges with a cost effective, low carbon solution. It has proven that leasing certain steel products to customers rather than selling them is a practical alternative which benefits everyone. 

Sheet piles are a case in point. This product, used in construction to provide earth or water retention in the foundations of buildings, roads, tunnels, or sea walls, becomes redundant when the structure is complete. Traditionally, these would be scrapped and made into new steel. But by leasing rather than selling sheet piles to customers, we can simply move them on to the next client once they’ve served their purpose on each site. Customers spend less to the have the material on site and don’t need to sell it on for scrap; the environment benefits from less carbon emission thanks to reduced processing; and ArcelorMittal gains an innovative new business model.

 

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