Decision-making in Circular Building Design

Design for disassembly or deconstruction (DfD) is the practice of planning the future deconstruction of a building and the reuse of its materials and components. DfD as a concept has been described since the late 1990s and has later been integrated into many circular design frameworks as a critical strategy to aid future product and material recovery.  However, DfD practices have never gained traction in the building sector.

Designers Looking at the Computer

As part of my doctoral research, I interviewed 13 building designers in the US to understand the barriers and enablers of circular building design strategies (namely, DfD and building component reuse). That was the first study of its kind in the US and one of the firsts in the world. I first analyzed the data following the grounded theory approach, which allowed me to identify several barriers, as follows: building owners’ values, the challenges of a DfD-centered life cycle cost analysis, the lack of understanding about the environmental benefits of reuse (e.g., over recycling), and the architects’ conflicting views about resiliency and disassembly (see figure). Conversely, prefabrication and product-service systems have emerged as enablers for DfD and CE in the built environment.

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More recently, during my postdoc at the University of Pittsburgh and after similar studies were published in European countries, I conducted a thematic analysis in the same interview data and quantified the barriers and enablers according to main themes. That allowed me to compare my results to the recent European studies. Although the share of technical and economic barriers was similar to those found in Europe, I found more educational and cultural barriers in the US, while European studies found a larger share of regulatory and technological barriers. Finally, I developed a framework with barriers and enablers for circular building design and the role of different stakeholders in enabling circular built environments. This work will help establish research and policy agendas and form new partnerships within the US construction sector.