Field of expertise sustainable construction

Professorship of Sustainable Construction

Circular Construction - Urban Mining
Future economic and ecological development is strongly connected to the question where our resources for future prosperity come from. As our mines run dry and CO2 levels are reaching alarming levels, we need to think radically different in all economic sectors. The building industry alone is responsible for 40% of our solid waste production, for 40% of the use of primary energy resources and for 40% of CO2 emissions world-wide. We need to change.
Our natural resources are extracted from the earth and then – in a linear process - disposed of. They are literally consumed rather than being temporarily borrowed from natural or socio-technical circuits. This approach has profound consequences for our planet. Ecosystems are destroyed, the climate is jeopardized, and many resources – such as sand, gravel, copper and zinc[1] – will soon no longer be available in economically reasonable terms. Humankind is putting at risk the wellbeing of future generations. If we want our environment to be truly sustainable, we need to stop exploiting and polluting our planet as well as destroying our ecosystem by treating it as a waste disposal site. On the contrary, the built environment could be considered as a depository and future provider of resources, a new mine: the Urban Mine.
Considering the human-made environment as a temporary state within an endless circuit of resources constitutes a radical paradigm shift for the building sector. We urgently need new principles for the construction, disassembly, and constant transformation of the built environment. At the same time, the question must be answered of how to produce new materials without further destruction of our ecosystems. Humankind must manage the shift towards activating the already existing materials in our Urban Mine and bind these mineral and metallic resources through cultivating, breeding, raising, farming, or growing of new substances replacing binders which are non-recycable as well as based on extracted and finite raw materials (such as cement). 
The potential of the existing Urban Mine as a material depot is gigantic. The challenge is to find new technologies to turn those materials in a new generation of sustainable, non-harmful, non-toxic and endlessly recyclable and de-constructable building materials. We also need to find new ways od creating material passports and connect them to a digital cadastral system, so future generations know where which materials will be available in which quantity and where.
The Professorship of Sustainable Construction at KIT is conducting research in the field of circular construction and was able to build several demonstrator buildings applying new findings, methods and principles of construction in order to achieve this goal.
Selected Publications:

  • Heisel, Felix. 2019. “Urban Mining & Recycling (UMAR).” In Circular Economy: Kreisläufe schließen, heißt zukünftsfähig sein, 41. DGNB Report, January 2019. Stuttgart, Germany: DGNB.
  • Kakkos, Efstathios, Felix Heisel, Dirk E. Hebel, and Roland Hischier. 2019. “Environmental Assessment of the Urban Mining and Recycling (UMAR) Unit by Applying the LCA Framework.” In SBE19 Brussels - BAMB-CIRCPATH “Buildings as Material Banks - A Pathway For A Circular Future,” 225:012049. 1. 5-7 February 2019, Brussels, Belgium: IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science
  • Heisel, Felix, Dirk E. Hebel, and Werner Sobek. 2019. “Resource-Respectful Construction –  the Case of the Urban Mining and Recycling Unit (UMAR).” In SBE19 Brussels - BAMB-CIRCPATH “Buildings as Material Banks - A Pathway For A Circular Future,” 225:012043. 1. 5-7 February 2019, Brussels, Belgium: IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science.
  • Hebel, Dirk E., Marta H. Wisniewska, and Felix Heisel. 2017. “Building from Waste - the Waste Vault.” In IMMINENT COMMONS: Urban Questions for the Near Future, edited by Alejandro Zaera-Polo, Hyungmin Pai, and urbanNext. Seoul, South Korea: Actar Publishers, Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2017.
  • Hebel, Dirk E., Marta H. Wisniewska, and Felix Heisel, eds. 2014. Building from Waste, Recovered Materials in Architecture and Construction. Berlin, Germany and Basel, Switzerland: Birkhäuser

Selected Applications/Projects:

  • Waste Vault, Ideas City NY, New Museum, 2015, New York City, USA
  • UMAR Urban Mining and Recycling unit, NEST Building at Empa, 2017, Dübendorf, Switzerland
  • Mehr.WERT Pavilion at BUGA Heilbronn, 2019, Germany

[1] Forschungsprojekt Nr. 09/05, Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Technologie (BMWi), 2005