What forward-thinking architects are looking forward to is a circular future

Greville Street by Groupwork + Amin Taha

Source:  Groupwork + Amin Taha

We need to find the joy in using reclaimed materials, writes Emily Booth

Ornament in architecture, and the delight it engenders, can so easily be overlooked or forgotten, value-engineered out of existence or pushed to the bottom of the ‘nice to have’ pile. There are sustainability concerns on top of budgetary ones of course – and considering what materials you use, and why, is just one decision among the many architects make.

Even ornament can be sustainable, of course – using ‘through colour’ in materials to cut down on waste, finding the joy in using reclaimed materials, designing for deconstruction (see Amin Taha’s ‘memory veil’, pictured, referencing Victorian and Edwardian façades on a Clerkenwell office retrofit).

At the recent WasteBuild  Zero event in Amsterdam, the focus on the circular economy demonstrated the delight in identity that ornament can bring. Among the vibrant graffiti and the range of materials, pattern, texture and colour on display, the demolition contractors took as much interest in what and how architects were building as the architects did in using beautiful, salvaged window frames or delicate balcony railings. 


The Dutch truly are embracing an impressively forward-looking approach to a circular future (‘We’re the most nature-depleted country in Europe,’ a delegate told me. ‘We have to do this.’) And the country’s architects and engineers are in the vanguard. 

Enlightened clients in the UK are also pushing for this type of approach from architects by encouraging them to measure the embodied carbon of the buildings they design. Within the supply chain, architects are in the best position to do this: they’re closest to the detail of the buildings and they are the key specifiers of products and materials.

What these heavy-hitting developers are calling for and why is covered in Will Hurst’s excellent feature while AJ sustainability editor Hattie Hartman’s insightful column helps explain how embracing this might help architects’ businesses and what the next steps might be.

As Grosvenor director of Climate Positive Solutions Andy Haigh says, there’s a new game in town: ‘It’s not just [about] aesthetics and costs. Now it’s aesthetics, costs and carbon.’

The May issue of the AJ, Ornament, is out now. Subscribers can read it online, or you can buy it here

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