At a time when we are talking about sustainable construction, experiments are being carried out: real "circular districts" that confront the dreams of designers with the torments and miracles of reality. Take a look at two neighborhoods in Copenhagen (Denmark) and Amsterdam (Netherlands) that show the urbanization of tomorrow.

Living labs in focus
“The most important thing to remember is that cities are for people. Changes can be sustainable, but they must also make these urban centers livable.”
Søren Brøndum

Cities consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy and add to more than 70% of global CO2 emissions. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Transforming urban centers into sustainable places where we live, work, shop and socialize is possible – but it starts one neighborhood at a time. 

Circular construction tries to balance all aspects of development: from solar cells and heating stations to waste and water management. But implementing this concept at scale, and in an urban setting, is no easy task. 

The five minute city

In the case of Nordhavn Copenhagen, sustainable construction has been vital to the city’s radical rethink on transforming the traditional port area into a smart harbor neighborhood. Here, the aspiration is for residents’ lifestyles to seamlessly blend together with sustainable solutions for energy, the environment, transport and the urban landscape. The overall vision is to create a sustainable city district that can accommodate 40,000 new residents and 40,000 workplaces. One that not only aims to embody the idea of sustainability but livability. A vision to which Saint-Gobain has subscribed by providing expertise and solutions – everything from facades and inner walls to insulation and Gyptone ceilings – to a number of projects, for instance the award-winning Copenhagen International schools.

By redesigning Nordhavn as a “Five minute city”, its residents will be able to reach schools, shops, workplaces, cultural facilities and other amenities within a five minute walk from any metro station in the district. 

On top of this, all of Copenhagen, including Nordhavn, aims to become the world's first CO2-neutral capital by 2025. As a CO2-neutral district, Nordhavn will support multiple renewable energy forms, such as district heating and cooling through geothermal energy and solar cells providing electricity. What’s more, the district will employ a double drainage system and central waste suction system. Proving that its strategy is already working, Nordhavn recently received the German Sustainable Building Council's (DNGB) highest gold certification for sustainability

However, the long-term nature of the work raises questions around government support for a project of this scale. According to Søren Brøndum, Executive Director, Buildings Ramboll Denmark, "it is critical that there is political will to want this type of long-term development across the entire political spectrum, no matter who is in power." 

Circular development and its living proof

Another circular neighborhood in development is the former industrial area of Buiksloterham, on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Here, the area has become a ‘living lab” of smart, sustainable, bio-based urban circular development. 

Just a short ferry from the center of Amsterdam, Buiksloterham’s circular development links the intelligent use of materials, recycling, renewable energies, climate resilience and sustainable mobility to new business models for production, consumption, distribution and logistics. And what’s more, local residents are actively encouraged to directly participate in the new design-build process via social media. 

The conversion of Buiksloterham into a living lab for circularity has boosted the local economy and revamped an old industrial area into an attractive urban district where people want to live and work. It is hoped that up to 6,500 people will eventually live in Buiksloterham, with an additional 8,000 working in the vicinity. 

Targets within reach  

Both districts have set high sustainability targets meaning that they must work to meet certain standards – some of which are still in development – to demonstrate their success. To successfully achieve this, the construction industry in particular will have to innovate more quickly and effectively. And as public demand for more sustainable living and work environments increases, circular construction will become increasingly important. The development of Nordhavn and Buiksloterham demonstrate that sustainable urban renewal is possible, but it will take continuous, long-term planning and fresh thinking to make it a reality. 

Credits: TH2I Shutter Rich/Shutterstock; Anne Thogersen/Shutterstock; RossHelen/Shutterstock