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10 September, 2019
Circular economy and building facade design

Elval Colour is a leading European coated aluminium manufacturer, providing a range of safe and durable cladding materials for all manner of facades, particularly those projects that aim to save resources and promote greater sustainability by reusing facade materials where possible.
The construction industry accounts for the majority of the consumption of materials and for almost one third of all waste. The vast majority of the materials used in construction cannot be reused or recycled; since they cannot be disassembled, after they have served their purpose they are reduced to debris. In a world that is struggling to save resources, Elval Colour aims to create a better living environment without halting progress in its field. Most buildings are created as durable solutions for temporary needs. During the 50 to 100 years that a building is expected to stay still, everything else keeps moving – user requirements, standards of life, design principles and respective regulations adjust to the demands of the world. This means that facades essentially reach the end of their functional and economic service life long before they are outdated, at least material-wise. As circular economy is a growing trend in several industries, it is about time its aspects were applied in the construction sector. Aiming to reduce the waste, the principles of circular economy have to be applied in several stages of the construction industry in order to successfully switch from a linear model of production towards a circular one.
 
Circular construction
In a circular system, the products are not designed from scratch but redesigned to reflect the new demands. If this is to be applied into facade design, material manufacturers, contractors, architects and demolishers are going to have to reshape their way of thinking and turn to more sustainable solutions. Elval Colour focuses on innovation and believes that, when designing a building, it is crucial for it to be involved before the construction begins. By discussing the project earlier in the process, Elval Colour’s clients discover a variety of environmentally friendly options like energy-saving coatings and minimisation of material wastage. Furthermore, the company opts for facades that follow the principles of a circular model – easy to deconstruct, adaptable and well documented. A typical facade consists of a number of layers, such as paint, mineral finish, adhesive primer, gypsum, glass reinforcement mesh, fastening plugs, bricks and mortar, and insulation, to name a few. These layers create a solid interface that is impossible to separate without completely destroying the facade. In circular construction, materials should be recovered and, to avoid material wastage, they have to be recovered without major damage. Easy deconstruction enables the reuse of the whole façade or individual components and materials. To efficiently do so, dry and mechanic connections are preferred over wet and chemical connections because, along with easier disassembly, they also allow the recovery of the components. This reversibility can also facilitate maintenance and repair. Other options include the incorporation of suspended supports and returning the materials to the manufacturer, either to upgrade them or to properly recycle them.
 
Adaptability and evolution
 
In a world that keeps reimagining itself, buildings seem to form a universal constant. Change of ownership or needs may require a building to redefine its internal spaces, but the shell will most probably remain intact. Therefore, making the buildings and the facades adaptable and reusable is vital, mainly for environmental purposes. When the facade needs to change, the sustainable approach is either to upgrade it or to rebuild it using recyclable and upcycled components. To do so, the facade has to be adaptable in every aspect. This requires facade substructure systems that are reusable, can sustain the effect of time, do not corrode and have the excess load capacity needed for different cladding materials. Moreover, the cladding material should be easy to handle and have minimal need for maintenance. Additionally, to prolong the use of the materials, Elval Colour suggests aluminium based products that withstand different weather conditions. Knowledge is power and, in this case, it is the key to giving facades a whole new circle of life. Inadequate information on the materials prohibit the demolishers from separating and reusing them after the deconstruction, thus leading to more waste. Elval Colour proposes fully documenting the materials used in a facade, not only because it helps create a circular construction but also to improve the overall quality of the project. This method is already in use as a means of reducing waste during construction, but it can be redefined to enable maintenance, redevelopment and value maximisation in the future. Ideally, the documentation could also include the intended use of the components after the disassembly of the facade. This can support not only the reuse of these components or the proper disposal, but also the proper maintenance. By systematically maintaining an updated model of the facade, Elval Colour may be able to evaluate how the facade could be reconfigured or deconstructed in the future.
 
The ventilated facade system
 
The ventilated facade system (VFS) is a well-known double-skin facade application. It consists of two facades that are separated by an air gap, and it is an easy and fast method to upgrade an old building both technically and aesthetically. This solution also incorporates all the aforementioned aspects of the circular facade design and construction. In the VFS, the cladding material – an aluminium composite panel – is supported on an aluminium substructure system with profiles and brackets. Between the wall and the cladding material, insulation can be placed, thus improving the living comfort. This system can be easily disassembled without specialised procedures or machinery. The most common fixings here are screws, rivets and suspended fixings like hangers. The cladding materials include, among others, the aluminium composite panel, which can follow the pre-existing morphology and help completely transform the facade. Standardisation of the sizes of the panels minimise labour and waste during fabrication, due to the fact that the system is preconstructed and the modifications that are needed in order to apply this to an existing facade are minimal. The materials, like the aluminium substructure profiles and the aluminium composite panels, are recyclable. In fact, most of the aluminium that is used these days is recycled. “In circular construction, materials should be recovered and, to avoid material wastage, they have to be recovered without major damage.”
 
Realistic expectations
 
Despite the application of the suggested methods and approaches for the circular economy, Elval Colour aims to keep its expectations realistic. There are several parameters that might limit the efficiency of the circular economy in facade design and construction. First of all, the company must bear in mind the age of a facade. As a building could have been built more than 50 years ago, modern building regulations could limit the reuse of components – for example, certain materials have been proven dangerous for the health or the environment. Additionally, the regulations might require materials that have increased load capacity or different properties towards energy dissipation. One more thing that needs to be considered is that certain popular materials, such as plasterboard, most rubbers and laminated glass, do not have an economic recycling or separation method yet. This does not necessarily mean that they should not be used in Elval Colour’s solutions; the company believes that it needs to push for further research on this subject instead. Lastly, the high temperatures that occur due to the climate crisis might prohibit certain types of facades to be reused in the climatic zone that they were initially used. Elval Colour also provides the aluminium composite panel etalbond, which is an ideal cladding material for a facade designed for circular construction. It is fully recyclable and its coatings are longer lasting. The finishes include stone and ceramic effects, or metallic shades like anodised imitation – options that reduce both the weight and the cost of the facade. The panels are easy to handle and remove from the assembly, while they can also be easily upgraded against fire. While the recyclability can be achieved by specialist companies that either segregate or shred and separate the different larger pieces that comprise the aluminium composite panel. Add to that the full traceability of the product and it has now definitively become the cladding material for the facade of the future.

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