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Recycled walls become brick cladding panels

Words:
Stephen Cousins

Chunks of masonry cut straight from old buildings clad Copenhagen apartment block as Lendager Group puts the circular economy into action

Panels set in steel frames and mounted on the timber/concrete composite structure.
Panels set in steel frames and mounted on the timber/concrete composite structure. Credit: Lendager Group

What: Resource Rows apartment 
Where: Copenhagen, Denmark

Like a patchwork quilt made from old clothes, the facades of the Resource Rows apartment block in Copenhagen are a multi-layered, ­multi- textural composition of square brick panels carved directly from the walls of old buildings.

The super-sustainable project, designed by Danish practice Lendager Group, works to circular economic principles. Extensive materials reuse and upcycling reduced carbon emissions during construction by 50-60%; heat pumps and solar panels provide renewable energy and residents are committed to green living, only buying second hand or upcycled products and sharing things like gardening tools, cars and bikes.

Most of the facade’s 1m by 1m brick panels were harvested from Carlsberg’s historical breweries in the city, with the rest sourced from old schools and industrial buildings around Denmark. Cutting out square sections using angle grinders was the only viable option because mortar bonds too strongly to separate individual bricks. The panels were mounted in steel frames to form facade modules that were fixed to a composite concrete/timber superstructure.

Other upcycled materials used in the building include windows for the allotment gardens on the roof, and reclaimed timber in the facades and interiors including apartment floors – much of it sourced from a construction site for a new metro station. The most unusual element is a huge concrete double T beam deck taken from an industrial building and used to form a bridge between the two sides of the block. 

  • Individual sections of old wall were cut out using angle grinders.
    Individual sections of old wall were cut out using angle grinders. Credit: R Hjortshoj
  • The finished building reduced carbon emissions from construction by up to 60%.
    The finished building reduced carbon emissions from construction by up to 60%. Credit: Lendager Group
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The intense focus on materials reappropriation dictated a new approach to design and construction. Anders Lendager, partner in charge of the project, told RIBAJ: ‘The biggest challenge was convincing the client and the main contractor that this was a viable solution, somehow we had to take the risk out of the equation.’

Facing scepticism, Lendager Group restructured the business so it could function as architect, demolition contractor and materials manufacturer. ‘If we could deliver the sustainable materials we could remove the contractor’s risk, while using some of the money in the budget to investigate how to make these new materials cost neutral and as durable as regular products.’ 

The narrow timeframe added pressure to develop and deliver these innovations as well as locate local various buildings at the end of their lifespan from which resources could be extracted. ‘The time from finding a building, to harvesting it, then preparing the materials to build with, involved a much smaller window than if we had used a regular manufacturer who would have products in stock,’ said Lendager. 

The apartment block was delivered for the same price per square metre as the equivalent block built traditionally. And although flat rentals were slowing in Copenhagen even before the Covid-19 pandemic, properties in Resource Rows were the fastest let. The project’s low carbon credentials provided the catalyst to help client Nordic Real Estate Partners (NREP) differentiate itself from the competition.

Lengager Group plans a larger project for NREP and has set up a series of spin-off companies that will manufacture products made from waste wood, bricks, textiles and plastics to guarantee stock for future reuse and upcycle projects.
‘The people we are building for want to live sustainably and prioritise it above all else. That is what makes these projects a better investment for capital funds, pension funds and developers in general,’ Lendager concludes. 

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