About the lab
The Circular Construction Lab (CCL) in the Department of Architecture at Cornell AAP houses a design research program that advances the paradigm shift from linear material consumption towards a circular economy within an industrialized construction industry. At the intersection of architecture, engineering, material and computer science, as well as economics, the lab investigates new concepts, methods and processes to (1) design and construct buildings as the material depots for future construction, and (2) activate the potential of the built environment as an 'urban mine' for today's construction. CCL understands architecture as part of a regenerative and restorative cycle and sees design as a vehicle that can advance this ambition with excellence in teaching and research.
Featured research (19)
This paper introduces ScanR (Scan for Reuse), a composite method pairing quantitative and qualitative salvage and deconstruction surveying (S&D survey) with LiDAR and photogrammetry scanning in an effort to empower local municipalities and stakeholders in cataloging building materials prior to removal from site (in the case of either demolition or deconstruction), and enabling data collection and the generation of material databases to link local supply with demand – all in support of a shift from linear to circular economic models in construction. The speed of capturing large spaces through 3D scans and the ability to export such models into CAD software allows for a rapid assessment of surface and floor areas to calculate finishing material quantities and other material content, but lacks metadata such as quality and potential hazards that are necessary for a potential deconstruction contractor. Furthermore, information on spaces inaccessible to scanning, such as wall cavities, are necessary to comprehensively assess a building’s reuse potential. In supplementing scans with S&D surveys using accessible tools and software, these factors can be noted and referenced in relation to the space and 3d model, providing critical information to inform the harvest of materials and planning of the materials’ next use cycles. In testing this method on a building slated for deconstruction, this paper demonstrates the advantages of each method of data collection and how one can be leveraged to support the other to further catalyze local efforts to divert material from waste streams.
As global and local actors seek to address climate concerns, municipalities, regions, and countries are developing policies for the built environment to reach carbon neutrality. In most cases, however, current policies target new construction and operational carbon emissions only, thus omitting the significant carbon emission saving potential resulting from the reactivation of embodied carbon in existing buildings. This article describes the development of a high-resolution combined building stock model (BSM) and building energy model (BEM) on both building and urban scale using all residential buildings of Ithaca, NY, USA as a case study. The model offers a holistic, detailed and local perspective on operational and embodied carbon emissions, associated saving potentials at both the building and urban scale, and the linkages, trade-offs and synergies between buildings and energy use as a basis for decision-making. A circular economy (CE) in construction posited on the reuse and recycling of existing building materials, necessitates a detailed material inventory of the current building stock. However, the scale and nature of this endeavor preclude traditional survey methods. The modeling process described in this article instead engages a bottom-up data aggregation and analysis approach that combines detailed construction archetypes (CAs) and publicly available, higher-level municipal geospatial data with building metadata defining occupancy and systems to create an autogenerated, detailed 3D geometry. The resulting BSM and BEM can simulate both embodied carbon content and operational carbon emissions of individual buildings within a municipal study with minimal required input data and a feasible computational effort. This provides modelers with a new spatial and geometric fidelity to simulate holistic renewal efforts, and inform carbon neutrality policies and incentives towards the decarbonization of the built environment.
Globally, buildings account for at least 39% of CO 2 emissions and more than 50% of resource extraction and solid waste production. Therefore, any transition to carbon neutral buildings must be paired with new resource sensibilities and a shift from linear models of material consumption to continuous material use within a circular economy. Prospecting the (urban) anthropogenic mine represents an essential step towards circular construction and requires a robust methodology for data collection and interpretation. This paper presents a comparative analysis of survey methods, evaluated by parameters of time, accuracy, equipment, and labor to determine the ability of each tool in providing the necessary data to activate the existing built environment as a material resource. Chosen methods span from on-site manual and analog surveys to off-site digital technologies on a variety of case study scales. In all cases, the output’s data format (sketch book, images, mesh or point cloud outputs) can be cumbersome to process with CAD and BIM software, increasing time to results and limiting the technology’s potential, introducing the call for a new generation of survey tools specifically addressing the needs of deconstruction and salvage in circular construction.
Wie können wir zukünftige Bauaufgaben sozial, ökonomisch und ökologisch bewältigen, um unserer gesellschaftlichen Verantwortung gerecht zu werden? Dieser wichtigen Frage widmet sich dieser Leitfaden. Dem linearen Wirtschaftsmodell und damit der Vernichtung von Ressourcen steht die Idee geschlossener Stoffkreisläufe, neuartig konzipierter Konstruktionen und (Rück-) Bautechnologien sowie innovativer, kreislauforientierter Geschäftsmodelle entgegen. Die gebaute Umwelt muss als Materiallager verstanden und für die einfache Entnahme von Baumaterialien geplant werden. Internationale Experten beleuchten aus ganz unterschiedlichen Blickwinkeln und anhand zukunftsweisender Projektbeispiele, wie den Herausforderungen einer Kreislaufwirtschaft mit ganz neuen methodischen Ansätzen begegnet werden kann. Eine Sammlung ausgewählter Materialbeispiele zeigt die besondere Ästhetik und Wertigkeit von wiederverwendeten und -verwerteten Baustoffen und Bauteilen. Der Einstieg in eine vollständige Kreislaufwirtschaft muss zum zentralen und gemeinsamen Ziel unserer Gesellschaft werden. Dieses Buch zeigt mögliche Wege zu einer kreislaufgerechten Bauwirtschaft auf.
RhinoCircular is a CAD plugin developed within the Circular Construction Lab (CCL) at Cornell University that assesses a building design’s environmental impact in respect to its embodied carbon values and circularity: the degree to which design solutions minimize extraction and waste in favor of reusable, recyclable and renewable material resources. Over their full life cycle, current buildings account for 39% of carbon dioxide emissions  and more than 50% of resource extraction and solid waste production. [2,3] As a way to overcome the social, economic, and environmental problems of this linear economic system, the concept of the circular economy is increasingly gaining attention. Activating the built environment as a material reserve for the construction of future cities would not only provide valuable local resources, but also potentially prevent up to 50% of the industry’s emissions by capitalizing on embodied carbon.  However, this requires radical paradigm shifts in how we design and construct buildings (e.g. materials selection/ design for disassembly), and in how resources are managed within the built environment. Buildings and regions need to anticipate stocks and flows of materials, documenting and communicating which materials in what quantities and qualities become available for reuse or recycling where and when. RhinoCircular allows direct and immediate feedback on design decisions in respect to formal deliberations, structural considerations, material selection and detailing based on material passports and circularity indicators. It can be integrated in existing and complex workflows and is compatible with industry standard databases while providing its own essential dataset complementing missing information.
- Department of Architecture
About Felix Heisel
- Felix Heisel is Assistant Professor of Architecture and Director of the Circular Construction Lab at Cornell University, working towards the consequent closing of material loops in design and construction. Previously, he was head of research at Sustainable Construction at KIT Karlsruhe and FCL Singapore / ETH Zürich, where he built the Advanced Fiber Composite Laboratory. Preceding this, he held teaching positions at Harvard GSD, USA; EiABC in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and UdK Berlin, Germany.