Felix Heisel + Circular Construction Lab

Circulating Matters

Circulating Matters represents an outdoor installation for the 2022 Cornell Biennial, Futurities, Uncertain, that identifies the potential of a future, local circular construction industry in Ithaca, New York. The project directly reuses materials from the deconstruction of 206 College Ave (a 1910 residential structure that was slated for demolition and has been deconstructed instead by concerned academic and community stakeholders within an Engaged Cornell Grant), reactivating the material qualities and values of the building for the construction of the installation. The spatial design plays on concepts of circulation and circularity by reimagining a staircase as a multidirectional, spatial folly engaging with its materials’ past (patina, dimensions) and future (reversible connections, design for disassembly). The proposal addresses the question how systemic concepts and methods for direct reuse of building elements at scale can be developed and implemented by combining panelized deconstruction with circular construction principles for a site-specific architectural application. The design aims to promote a design paradigm that begins from the uncertainties of local material availabilities, and foresees futurities of material and component reuse within industrialized re-construction.

Globally, buildings and construction account for about 50% of resource extraction, at least 40% of carbon dioxide emissions and 50% of solid waste production. Within the USA alone, 600 million tons of construction and demolition debris are generated each year – twice the amount of municipal solid waste, making up about 40% of landfill waste in the country. All of these factors are dominant reasons for climate change.

The concept of a circular economy represents a way to overcome social, economic, and environmental problems of the current linear economic system, and can be defined as one that is “restorative and regenerative by design and aims to keep assets, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times.” The consequent closing of production and consumption loops offers not only the possibility to end the loss of valuable finite resources, but also to reduce dependencies on global, volatile resource markets, prevent greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, and support new business models and green workforce development.

Felix Heisel  is an architect and academic working towards the systematic redesign of the built environment as a material depot of endless use and reconfiguration. At Cornell University, he holds the position of Assistant Professor and acts as the Director of the Circular Construction Lab. He is a faculty fellow at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability and a field member of Architecture as well as Systems Engineering. Heisel is a partner at 2hs architects and engineers in Germany, an office specialized in the development of circular prototypologies. He has received various awards for his work and published numerous books and articles on the topic, including Urban Mining und kreislaufgerechtes Bauen (Urban Mining and Circular Construction, Fraunhofer IRB, 2021, with Hebel), Addis Ababa: A Manifesto on African Progress (Ruby Press, 2019, with Hebel, Wisniewska, Nash), Cultivated Building Materials (Birkhäuser, 2017, with Hebel), Lessons of Informality (Birkhäuser, 2016, with Kifle) and Building from Waste (Birkhäuser, 2014, with Hebel, Wisniewska).

The Cornell Circular Construction Lab (CCL) 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. In circular construction, the most effective strategies engage the smallest cycles. Local reuse not only preserves embodied values of assets within the community, but requires less emissions from transport and includes the potential to engage local labor in the development of a culture of care.

Circular Construction Lab:
Felix Heisel, Dan Bergsagel, Eduardo Cilleruelo Teran, Allexxus Farley-Thomas, Lulin He, Joseph McGranahan, Maxwell Rodencal, Connor Yocum, and Yao Wang.

Finger Lakes ReUse (Diane Cohen, Melissa McKown, Robin Elliot and team); Trade Design Build (Gideon Stone, David Messmer and team); sbp engineering (Dan Bergsagel); pcrents (Chad Conley); CR0WD; David Cutter and Cornell Grounds Department (Dan Schied, Les Sills, and team).

A special thank you to our Supporters:
Cornell Council for the Arts; Cornell College of Architecture, Art, and Planning; Cornell David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement; Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.

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