Circular construction: a Lego house for grown-ups

Only low-energy shops. Shops without fossil fuels. What’s next? Here’s a preview: we’re busy experimenting with circular construction. Actually, the best comparison are the Lego houses you built when you were a child. They clicked together into a sturdy unit. A little while later you took the bricks apart again to build something new with them. Do you believe that can be done with real buildings? We do. That’s why we’re fully committed to innovative materials and building systems so that we can evolve towards 100% circular construction.

What is circular construction?

Today, construction usually works like this. A contractor buys brand new materials. He builds a solid supermarket with them. Decades later, the building is flattened and the debris adds to the waste mountain.

This is exactly how we do not want to build. Our engineers and architects believe in circular construction: a closed circuit without the addition of new raw materials and ever-growing waste mountains. What exactly does that mean? Constructing buildings in such a way that we can reuse as many products, materials and raw materials in their highest quality form. Reuse bricks to build a new shop instead of shattering them into gravel. And using metal beams immediately in another building without melting them down first.

Front click wall
With a system such as Facadeclick, you can easily build walls, demolish them and rebuild them somewhere else. All without cement.

‘Dry construction’

In order to be able to dismantle buildings easily, no glue or cement should be used in circular construction. Instead, we’re investigating screw and click systems, amongst other things. You can compare it with a flat pack cupboard. Even today, we opt for prefabricated facades instead of classic masonry. This means the materials remain pure and we can reuse them more easily. Of course it will be a while before the first circular construction supermarket opens its doors. But we’re experimenting and testing flat out!

You can learn from demolition

Together with an engineering office, we’re dismantling one of our Colruyt shops, literally, piece by piece.

We take a close look at all the demolished materials. How pure is the material? How much of each raw material is there? And more importantly, can we possibly reuse every piece? Call it an exercise in demolition. Because we want to learn in practice how we can work in a circular way with our existing buildings now, instead of waiting for new construction projects. By doing so, we can have a better idea of the problems in advance: with old, polluted and glued materials for example.

Demolition Colruyt shop
During the demolition, we examine which materials we can reuse.

Materials passport

Our ideal situation is an inventory of each shop, each office building and each distribution centre. Containing an overview of all the materials used, their lifespan and their environmental impact. So we can immediately see, for example, how we can reuse any supporting beam. And at the same time, our engineers can effortlessly trace the same beam through its entire use cycle. In short, demolition without losing materials.

Together with OVAM (the Public Flemish Waste Materials Company), we’re already working on such a database coupled with an evaluation system. This allows us to give buildings a sustainability score, using all kinds of parameters.

Sorting demolition waste
We sort all the demolition waste and thus make a comprehensive demolition inventory.

With this initiative, we contribute to the following Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

Industry, innovation & infrastructure Sustainable cities and communities Climate action