Carbon Matters 4: Circular Economy

Written By

Suzy O’Leary

2.4.2024 Thinking

As part of our Carbon Matters series, we want to share some of our thinking on the circular economy. We are a reuse practice. In our 40+ years of practice, we have worked on 1533 projects with around 80% of them involving existing buildings. The foundation of our practice involves adapting, conserving, and reimagining existing buildings to create relevant, accessible, sustainable buildings for the future.

In 2021 our Edinburgh Printmakers project won the Zero Waste Scotland Circular Economy Award, a special category award of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland’s (RIAS) Awards. Following on from that, Zero Waste Scotland asked us to develop a case study with them discussing our approach to the circular economy. This case study is published here and highlights our thinking on how to reuse not just a building, but how to repurpose and reimagine building materials on site.

At Edinburgh Printmakers the design methodology was rooted in retaining as much of the existing material on site as possible. Where repair was needed, we forensically analysed the source of the issue, remedied this, and then repaired in a light touch manner. By taking this approach we not only reduced embodied carbon emissions by retaining good material on site, but also retained the patina of years of occupation, memory, and human experience. Where change was needed, to facilitate new access or use, we found ways to recycle downtaking materials on site. This included repurposing old doors to make tables for the café and re-using old timber studs to frame out the new vaulted ceiling in the Boardroom. This approach isn’t easy. It requires lots of time on site getting to know the inner details of the building fabric, it takes creativity to re-use sometimes uninspiring material in beautiful ways, and it takes perseverance to convince all the stakeholders that re-use is better than new. However, we think it is worth it as the unique character of the building speaks of that respect for the building fabric.

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