How Can Zinc Architecture Contribute to the Circular Economy? | ArchDaily

2022-10-31 08:39:17 By : Ms. Winmy Kong

As climate change continues to reach unprecedented levels, many are pointing towards enhancing circularity in the construction sector. Essentially, the circular economy aims to eliminate waste and the continual use of resources by repeatedly reusing, repairing or recycling materials. The cyclical approach is able to meet demand and minimize CO2 emissions by extending a product’s lifespan, which is especially important when dealing with limited resources. Unlike the traditional linear extractive method –where everything goes through an extremely contaminating process of 'take-make-waste'–, circularity keeps materials in use for as long as possible to extract maximum value. This, in turn, reduces pollution, regenerates natural systems and contributes to a healthier built environment, hence building economic, natural, and social capital.

Architecture projects can incorporate the principles of the circular economy in many ways, from producing more energy than is consumed, to ensuring building components can be repurposed. But in order to meet these conditions, architects must start with the basics: choosing natural and recyclable materials. Zinc, for instance, is a great example. A natural element extracted from ores, zinc has been used as a construction material for over 150 years. Its popularity lies in its versatility, resistance, durability, and above all, sustainability, as it can be recycled without limit in its entirety while maintaining its composition. Below, we explore how the material contributes to the circular economy, diving into its unique qualities and endless architectural applications. C&Z Section Steel

The functional and aesthetic possibilities of titanium zinc

Aiming toward environmental and human well-being, RHEINZINK is the leading producer of titanium zinc for roofing, facades, and roof drainage. Since 2022, it has partnered with Madaster, a register for materials that enables and facilitates their circular use in the construction industry. RHEINZINK titanium zinc consists of 99.995% pure primary zinc with a small portion of titanium and copper, creating an alloy that is malleable, long-lasting, stable, non-flammable, and corrosion-resistant. For its manufacture, it is smelted, cast as a material of uniform and certified quality, and wound as a coil in one continuous operation.

Because of its ability to be fabricated in multiple shapes, the resulting product can be fully customized to fulfill a project’s specific requirements. It provides practically unlimited design options that are not always possible with other materials, from perforated panels to sheets with complex forms, patterns, and other unique surface designs. That same versatility is present in terms of hues and finishes, ranging from a sleek, minimalistic appearance, to a unique aesthetic with subtle or bold nuances of color. These variations are present in RHEINZINK’s five product lines; while GRANUM comes in a modern, elegant dark gray, others like prePATINA feature a blue-gray or graphite-gray surface with the color of the naturally aged patina ex-works –which is possible thanks to a pre-weathering procedure.

Although the number may vary according to the different conditions of each project, zinc can usually last more than 100 years on roofs and facades (even more in interior applications). Responding to weather and the environment, the material generates a self-protecting effect –known as patina– that isolates it and allows it to resist corrosion. The production and assembly process also consumes little energy compared to other metals used in construction, and 100% of rolled or worked zinc products can be completely and infinitely recycled at the end of their lifecycle. RHEINZINK’s titanium zinc maintains these qualities, guaranteeing a natural, ecologically-sourced, fully sustainable product that is able to be reused systematically, also making it cost-effective.

RHEINZINK adheres to the 'CradletoCradle' (C2C) philosophy, which is based on the idea that all construction materials, including their residues, can be converted back into a new product without any loss of quality. In contrast to the traditional meaning of recycling, the basis is that a product regains its original value and is used for a new product of at least equal value (upcycling). In this way, RHEINZINK titanium zinc contributes to the circular economy because it is eco-friendly when it is produced, while it is used, and also when it is disposed of and reused in other buildings –always maintaining its original characteristics.

The circularity inherent to titanium zinc can be enhanced in a broad range of applications, whether it be for roofing systems, gutters and roof drainage, façade cladding or various architectural details. Kiasma, the Museum of Modern Art located in Helsinki, Finland, is a prime example. The famous museum was designed and built in the 1990s; however, due to an inadequate substructure, the cladding material pitted in some parts. Currently, it is being renovated and will once again be cladded in titanium zinc (but the old, still intact material is also reused). As a result, the construction company seeks to demonstrate how easy it can be to reuse materials on a large scale and, at the same time, minimize the ecological footprint.

At the moment, the use of new materials makes up for a large part of the climate impact. With this project we hope to get a good picture of which materials have recycling potential. – Pär Johansson, Project Manager

At the moment, the use of new materials makes up for a large part of the climate impact. With this project we hope to get a good picture of which materials have recycling potential. – Pär Johansson, Project Manager

Similar to the museum, there are many other projects that clad their roofs and facades with titanium zinc and thus present a great opportunity in strengthening a circular model. Hotel Boat & Co, for instance, utilizes CLASSIC bright rolled sheets to clad the roof, covering complex geometries. On the other hand, both FOX Vakanties at Park 20 | 20 and C2C Demowoning Groote Hoeven are clad with prePATINA graphite-grey, achieving a contemporary look while benefitting from the functional and environmental value of the titanium zinc panels.

The effects of climate change are undeniable, and the industry cannot be indifferent. Especially considering that buildings account for almost 40% of energy-related global carbon emissions, architects have the responsibility to address a project’s environmental impact in every scale. In that sense, it is imperative to select high-quality products that ensure durability, but that also guarantee long-term sustainability through a circular approach. Using recycled materials in a way that they cannot be recycled again is simply not enough; the idea is to think about a building’s future, not just the present. Therefore, architecture must embrace the circular economy to allow us to imagine a greener future, one where buildings are able to achieve the universal goal of net-zero, and where humans are able to live in a healthier environment.

To learn more about titanium zinc and its various architectural applications, visit RHEINZINK’s website or explore our product catalog.

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