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New European Bauhaus
News article5 April 2021

Urban mining & recycling: A 97% circular unit

We want to see examples of alternative building methods that respect the environment.


Do we have to compromise aesthetics for sustainability?

Reto Largo says no! To prove it, he shared through our website the example of UMAR, a 97% circular apartment in Switzerland.

The Urban Mining & Recycling unit demonstrates how a responsible approach to dealing with our natural resources can also go hand in hand with an appealing architectural form.

The project is underpinned by the proposition that all the resources required to construct a building must be fully reusable, recyclable, or compostable.

Life-cycle thinking is at the forefront of the building design created by Werner Sobek in collaboration with Dirk E. Hebel and Felix Heisel. Instead of merely using and subsequently disposing of resources, they are borrowed from their technical and biological cycles for a certain amount of time before being put back into circulation. This approach makes reusing and repurposing materials just as important as recycling and upcycling them both at a systemic and a molecular/biological level, e.g. via melting or composting.

Approaches at the heart of the design:

  • Temporary removal and borrowing instead of permanent acquisition and disposal
  • Maximal modularisation and prefabrication
  • The potential for all materials and products to be extracted cleanly, separated, and sorted

This conceptual emphasis means that the Urban Mining & Recycling unit functions simultaneously as a materials' laboratory and temporary material storage. The modules can be completely dismantled and reused for other construction projects.

What are your thoughts on this approach to designing and building apartments?

Let us know how you think we can make our communities & the places where we live more beautiful, sustainable, and inclusive.

Go to Co-design in our main menu and share your ideas!

? UMAR unit / © Empa - Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology


Publication date
5 April 2021