Upcycle Studios

By Benjamin Wells

© Rasmus Hjortshøj, COAST Studio

Upcycle Studios, a housing project by Danish architects Lendager Group, is built on the concept of sharing.

The 20 townhouses in southern Copenhagen provide flexibility for their inhabitants by enabling the sharing of resources and continual transformation of spaces; they also make use of materials ‘shared’ by decommissioned buildings, turning construction waste into new resources.

Lendager Group are specialists in this process of material ‘upcycling’, seeing the potential in the 11,7 million tons of construction waste produced each year in Denmark alone. They consider this waste material as a valuable resource, and their project portfolio showcases innovative ways of using it anew. Lendager Group promotes this as a bold new architectural aesthetic, one that anticipates an urgently needed shift within the construction industry.

Much like Vandkunsten’s careful renovation of Albertslund Syd, Lendager endeavored to analyze each of Upcycle Studio’s building components in isolation, scrutinizing the whole-life-cycle energy performance of each against a strict set of parameters. The result is a composition of repurposed and upcycled materials, each with an embedded history but redefined in its new collective purpose to provide flexible housing for residents of Copenhagen’s Ørestad district.

In Upcycle Studios concepts such as symbiosis, resource efficiency and ‘sharing economy’ form the foundation for the new housing.
— Lendager Group

75% of the project’s windows come from abandoned buildings in North Jutland, forming a patchwork facade of glazing around the entrances to each townhouse. This saves as much as 95% of the CO2 produced in the production process of the windows; to meet modern insulation standards, the windows consist of two layers of recycled double-glazing. This is coupled with 1.400 tons of ‘upcycled’ concrete that forms the shell of the building, using concrete waste from the construction of the Copenhagen metro (a project that is intimately connected to Ørestad’s planning and was largely financed through its real estate development), using a new technique developed by Lendager Group.

The wood used for floors, walls, and facades is a composition of offcuts and surplus material from Danish flooring manufacturer Dinesen, following a close collaboration that allowed this ‘waste’ to be utilized.

These are all materials that would have ended up in landfill or an incineration plant if they hadn’t been upcycled and used in the construction of the townhouses. This helps to drastically reduce the building’s whole-life energy performance, with Upcycle Studios potentially reducing its total CO2 emissions by 60 percent over 50 years. Lendager Group is quick to remind us that this makes the project more than just a circular homemade of upcycled parts, with the potential to ‘incentivize sustainable living’ at scale.

The Upcycle Studios project differs from the ‘average’ sustainable building in that it is a commercial project, defined by market conditions, and is designed to be scaled up.

Lendager Group is pragmatic about the economic forces shaping its projects, and claims that Upcycle Studios shows how “we can decouple growth from emissions by looking at local waste as a resource and making sustainability and growth each other’s prerequisites.” While the growth paradigm should not be taken as a given, the architects have been forward-thinking in their approach to the project’s scalability, finding multiple alternative uses for innovative materials and utilizing efficiency dynamics to increase the affordability and viability of these new products. This has the potential to impact far beyond the confines of the Upcycle Studios’ site.

Beyond the project’s material credentials, Lendager Group points to Upcycle Studios as a new model for shared living, which seeks to find a balance between commonality and individuality, as ‘the community thrives best if there is space for the individual.’ This taps into various aspects of the ‘sharing economy’, by prioritizing access over ownership and providing generous spaces for shared living as well as private accommodation. The result is a series of flexible spaces that can be used as offices, rental accommodation, workshops or a multitude of other user-defined activities, with each townhouse able to be divided and shared in different ways. Much like their approach to material use, Lendager Group emphasizes the economic incentive of this ‘sharing’, with its potential benefit for both ‘owner and consumer’.

The project has won a Danish Design Award, with the jury praising the project for demonstrating “good design, material innovation and process documentation that is highly praiseworthy and sets a great example for others to follow and join.”



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