Demolish or Restore?


One of the highlights of the Circular Economy in Architecture and Design exhibition is the project, ‘Sustainability and Circular Economy for Buildings’. The project is the work of Associate Professor, Søren Vadstrup of the Institute of Architecture and Culture. The project looks at how best to incorporate principles of circular economy when it comes to houses built pre-1960. Should we demolish them and recycle the construction material or restore them?

When considering recycling and circular economy in the context of buildings constructed before 1960, we need to distinguish between different degrees of recycling: primary, secondary and tertiary.

Today many people believe that all methods are equally environmentally friendly and sustainable, representing more or less the same degree of reuse and circular economy. That is not the case, and this focus stresses that it is far more sustainable and in tune with the principles of circular economy to maintain and refurbish existing buildings (‘Primary Recycling’) than to rip them down, and then clean and recycle the construction materials (‘Secondary Recycling’). The third option (‘Tertiary Recycling’) is to rip a building down, crush the construction materials and reuse them as filling in asphalt and concrete. 

Arne Jacobsen: Ibstrupparken (1939-41)
Tear down or preserve? What is most sustainable?

Restoring old buildings will save a lot of materials, money, energy, CO2, waste etc., which is not the case when having to separate, clean, upgrade, redesign and utilise the ‘recycled’ materials and components. When it comes to buildings  constructed before 1960 (about 2 million buildings nationwide), on every count it is worth refurbishing them rather than demolishing them. Or maybe even just replacing the original windows.

The project shows how, simply and inexpensively, you can refurbish a 200-year-old wooden window and make it last for another 200 years, if you maintain it correctly, using the likes of linseed oil-based paint instead of plastic paint.

The project also underlines the fact that today there is no problem manufacturing new windows in the same quality as before with virtually unlimited durability and service life.

Cleaning of an old window frame