The Lendager Group – A Masterful Proponent of Circular Design and Upcycling

The Circular economy is a systems solution framework aimed at global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution. It is based on three principles, driven by design: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials (at their highest value), and regenerate nature.  

A remarkable proponent of this concept is the Danish Architecture firm Lendager group, which designs for the circular economy with a comprehensive and innovative approach to waste and upcycling. Rather than seeing waste as an end, the group are able to view waste as an untapped resource, which through design can be rebirthed into new materials with increased potential. Going as far as referring to cities as “Urban Mines” where we can now find our resources for design.  

The group has the ambition and capability to take discarded unwanted materials and create high value resources that are circulated back into our system creating a sustainable regenerative loop. The process creates benefits for the project, the people and the planet.  

An Experimental Approach by the Lendager Group - Upcyle House 2013

The Upcycle House Designed by Lendager Group 2013
What if you could build a family house out of shipping containers, champagne corks and soda cans? | Lendager Group

An early example of the approach taken by Lendager Group is the Upcycle House built in 2013. Collaborating with Realdania Byg, a foundation committed to promoting innovation and best practices in the building sector, the group took on the ambitious challenge of constructing an entire house using discarded materials. 

To actualise their vision the group used shipping containers, champagne corks and cans, in an experiment to explore the potential CO2 reductions from using upcycled materials to their fullest extent. The choice of materials was broad and the application creative, yet the result was a house that looks and functions like a contemporary house made from conventional materials.  

The loadbearing structure is comprised of two prefabricated shipping containers, the roof and façade cladding is sourced from aluminium cans, and the façade panels consist of recycled granulated paper, which has been pressed together and heat-treated.  

Inside the structure, the kitchen floor is clad in tiled champagne cork-leftovers, the bath tiles are made from recycled glass, and the walls and floors are covered with OSB-panels consisting of woodchips that are pressed together without glue. 

What was the outcome of the experiment? Initial expectations for a 65% reduction in CO2 emissions seemed ambitious, however after completing a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of the materials, the project resulted in a reduction of 86% compared to a benchmark house. 

“Why is it not included in everything we do as architects? Why is it not included in the building code that a certain percentage of building materials have to be recycled?” 

What is the tangible impact from an 86% reduction in carbon emissions? Let’s consider that a benchmark house emits 5 KG of CO2 per metre squared per year, while the upcycled house reduces this down to just 0.7 kg. In Denmark alone where approximately 10,000 family homes are built every year, with an average floor area of 130 sq. m, the result would be an annual reduction of 5590 tonnes of CO2.

With the staggering results of the project, the firm began to question why no other firms were working on this. “Why is it not included in everything we do as architects? Why is it not included in the building code that a certain percentage of building materials have to be recycled?” 

Upscaling the Approach - Upcycle Studios 2018

What if waste was your only resource? | Lendager Group

Fast forward 5 years and the group took the approach and scaled, developing the Upcycled Studios a project of 20 townhouses in the Ørestad district of Copenhagen. The challenge was to replicate the success of the Upcycle House while addressing the resource demands of a larger project. 

"Upcycle Studios potentially reduces the total CO2 emissions over 50 years by about 60 per cent"

The larger scale created a design driver for the project, increasing the resourcefulness in how the group sourced its waste materials. The sourcing epitomized the concept of the “Urban Mine,” uncovering substantial sources of materials right within the city of Copenhagen.  

Looking underground the group sourced 850 tonnes of concrete refuse that came from the construction of the Copenhagen Metro. Double glazing was extracted and repurposed from old buildings being renovated. Whilst the wood came from Danish Manufacturer Dinesen, who had intended to discharge and burn part of the material.  

The results of the award-winning project were remarkable turning 1000 tonnes of waste into building materials. With two thirds of the materials used in the development being either upcycled or reused. 

Building upon the foundation laid by the Upcycle House, the Upcycled Studios introduced additional sustainable systems into the mix. The townhouses featured roof gardens, solar panels, and heat pumps, all thoughtfully incorporated to inspire a self-sufficient and sustainable way of life for the residents—aligned with the ethos of the entire development. 

The project addressed not only embodied carbon emissions but also the operational emissions. The Group attests the “Upcycle Studios potentially reduces the total CO2 emissions over 50 years by about 60 per cent”. Creating not just the circular home of tomorrow, but a design that actively incentivises sustainable living for its residents.  

Holistic Sustainable Design on the Big Stage - UN 17 Village

Rendered image of the UN17 Village by Lendager Group
Why don’t we use UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as design tools? | Lendager Group

The momentum behind the sustainable living approach of the Lendager Group shows no signs of waning. Working alongside Årstiderne Arkitekter the pair won the prestigious competition to design the UN17 Village – a project which intends to use the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a design tool.  

The design team was selected ahead of big-name studios including BIG and Henning Larsen for the development – Which has been described by NREP the property developer of the project as an open laboratory for the 17 UN Global Goals. 

"With the UN17 Village, we wanted to create not only an iconic and sustainable building from recycled materials, but also the opportunity for a sustainable lifestyle"

The proposal is for five housing blocks in a 35,000 square metre eco village situated in Ørestad Copenhagen. Embracing their established philosophy, the group intends to champion the use of recycled wood, concrete, and upcycled windows in the construction process. Some of the materials will be sourced in-house from Lendager UP, the branch of Lendager that provides upcycled building materials. 

Anders Lendager has stated that “With the UN17 Village, we wanted to create not only an iconic and sustainable building from recycled materials, but also the opportunity for a sustainable lifestyle”.  

The UN17 Village will be a haven of sustainable energy, with each housing block relying solely on renewable sources. Adding to its eco-conscious design, each block will feature a rooftop garden, promoting biodiversity, and rainwater collection facilities capable of recycling an impressive 1.5 million litres of water annually. 

Moreover, the complex allocates a substantial 3,000 square meters to communal spaces, welcoming both residents and the people of Ørestad to enjoy shared facilities.  

Envisioning a holistic vision, the UN17 Village will house a conference centre hosting sustainability-focused events, an organic restaurant, and greenhouses, showcasing the Lendager Group’s dedication to fostering sustainable living and promoting a greener future. 

Tackling carbon emissions within the built environment is a significant challenge, however, it is not insurmountable. Through the scaling of sustainable solutions, from small experimental projects to large developments, it is possible to see the transition of sustainable design into the mainstream. 

Anders Lendager on building sustainably | Fritz Hansen

Learn More on Firstplanit

Click here to read more about the iconic Mjøstårnet project and how this skyscraper broke the glass ceiling for mass timber.

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