At the time of industrialization, Bauhaus Design was developed through new production techniques and mass production. The new design was necessary, to be compatible with the new ‘technology’. New Technology and new design were at the same time the beginning of a changing society.

Urbanization combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban areas by 2050. 90% of this increase is taking place in Asia and Africa, according to a new United Nations. This means the pressure on requirements for goods, food, water, energy and other resources and the challenge of waste management and reduction of emissions are increasing alongside the tasks of sustainable development and climate goals.

The linear economy (also called “disposable economy”) is the now prevalent principle of industrial production. In the process, the majority of the raw materials are used, disposed of and incinerated after the respective useful life of the products, only a small proportion is reused. The European economy’s value creation model is surprisingly wasteful. On average, Europe uses materials only once.

(Ellen Macarthur Foundation & McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, Growth within, 2015, p. 12)

The linear economy has to change and all the elements of the take-make-waste system. The way of production, resource management and what we do with the materials afterward needs to be transformed into a circular economy, which is a regenerative system that minimizes resource use and waste production, emissions and waste of energy by slowing down, reducing and closing energy and material cycles. This can be achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, restructure, refurbishing and recycling.

(What is the circular economy?; Ellen Macarthur Foundation; 2017;


In the current situation, the focus of urban development is the digitalization of cities, regions, and countries, where less importance is given to citizens and participation. But this movement called ‘smart city’ should not be considered as the resolution for cities. Instead, it should be seen as a tool that helps to analyze the urban space as a “living organism” with all their complexity of chemical processes and different speeds, which shows a new view on the existing metabolism. This new perspective allows discovering new potentials of resources, materials, products, and services. In other words, digitalization is a tool that helps to observe and discovering new potentials for an urban space to transform the linear metabolism in a circular metabolism.

The ‘circularity’ is necessary because the population, cities and all the connected requirements are increasing, but not the resources. Resources are finite and the current linear use of them needs to be disrupted through circular metabolism.

The ‘design’ should be understood together with digitalization, behavior, and circularity. There is a good chance that the transformation to a circular metabolism will also change the behavior of the people and bring a whole new ‘circular’ design, in a similar way as the beginning of the Bauhaus design.

The role of Circular Design is to actively support the design of this regenerative Circular Economy. The goal is to improve our cities performance, creating a comprehensive methodology to design resilient cities for a sustainable future.




Through industrialization and modernization, capitalism forced the industries to mass produce to satisfy the needs of the ever-increasing demands of the growing population. This resulted in streamlining the market systems such as design, production, and distribution to solely be optimized for speed of production and profitability. The linear economic model of ‘Take-Make-Dispose’ became widely adopted throughout most industries. To bring a radical change in this system it is required to understand all the stakeholders and their influence while developing a holistic approach that can intertwine at many levels.

Starting with the industries, the approach towards designing single-use items needs to be re-evaluated to move towards designing for flexible or multi-use. By applying the theory of flexibility of use at the first step of design, the transition of outmoded items to a regenerated item or use can be exercised. Not only does the industry need to design the product, but it also needs to design for the waste that is produced after the life cycle of the product is utilized so as to integrate it back into the system with minimal loss. The traditional idea of buildings and structures built to last forever has clearly failed in today’s ever-changing world, even something as rigid as a building needs to be thought of as a temporary product with a defined usable lifetime after which it has to be designed for reintegration into the construction industry by means of redesign or reuse.

It is also necessary to understand this from the other end of the spectrum where the user is placed at the center of understanding these forces that shape the design models. In the most basic understanding of demand and supply, unless the end-user that is every single one of us realizes the impacts of the choices that we make on a daily basis there will be no change in these dynamics. A very good example of this is the water crisis in Cape Town, where the ‘Day Zero’-a moment when dam levels would be so low that the government of Cape Town would turn off the taps and send people to communal water collection points, is pushed after the residents start consuming less amount due to the widespread awareness regarding the issue.

The importance of design within the context of the region or use needs to be stressed upon. More situations need to be designed to be contextually appropriate, with globalization often the vernacular materials and knowledge are overshadowed which need to be revoked.

Future changes in the dynamics affecting the global market needs to be anticipated and planned for. With the increasing consumption due to the economic growth in the developing nations, if the circular model is not applied immediately, the ill-effects of the linear model will have an exponential impact. The western world has been the biggest consumer of meat products and with the increase in the purchasing power of the largest countries in Asia, the more people that ever have meat as a big part of their daily diet. It is not an unknown fact that the meat industry is one of the most polluting and unsustainable industries at this time and therefore it becomes crucial to think of new possibilities to counter these effects.



The existence of new design tools such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and biomimicry in the 21st century can mean our design ambitions are only limited by our creativity. The way we design how things work is fundamental which can affect the environment and the system as a whole. That being said, the design sits at the core of the circular economy principle.

Developing closed-loop products is seen as a key step towards turning the global economy into a circular one, in which waste and pollution are eliminated while natural systems are restored. A major study by Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggests that by implementing circular economy, Europe’s resource productivity could be increased by 3 percent by 2030, generating cost savings of €600 billion a year and €1.8 trillion more in other economic benefits (citation).

The ability to analyze and carry out circular economy principles on a city scale will lead to job creation, a cleaner environment, better industries, and ultimately boost competitiveness in global markets. Cities are taking opportunities to improve efficiency and environmental impact by embedding circular economy principles in urban infrastructure and services, from mobility to energy to healthcare.



Urban Metabolism, a project by IABR – Atelier Rotterdam, is an example of circular design on a city level, by taking the city of Rotterdam as a petri dish to evaluate how a framework of a city should best be practiced in order to achieve a holistic and positive metabolism. The project describes the urban framework in an organic manner rather than technical terms, by metaphorically linking the city to how the human body works.

The project focuses on nine important elements of flows within an urban landscape. The nine elements of flows are Goods, People, Waste, Biota, Energy, Food, Fresh Water, Sand, and Air.  highlights that these urban flows affect the everyday lives of individual citizens and their basic needs, as every flow has its own infrastructure. The term ‘Metabolism’ is, therefore, a key concept to analyze how the interlocking flows and framework in complex urban system work. Urban Metabolism is a response to global trends to anticipate global issues like resource scarcity, energy and food shortages, environmental issues, and climate change.

In the business sector, taking into account circular economy brings opportunities to expand into new areas such as collection and reverse logistics, remarketing, component remanufacturing and refurbishment. Businesses have a big role in determining the direction of consumerism in society. Ultimately, consumers or users will have to choose from what is available in the market.



EIG (Eco Intelligent Growth) is an organization accredited to perform the assessment of products against the Cradle to Cradle principles, ranging from green building, fashion to product packaging sectors. EIG provides consultancy and analysis for the transition of companies and/or organizations from the linear model to the circular economy. By using available means to create sustainable design such as Cradle to Cradle, Industrial Ecology (Prof. Roland Clift), Performance Economy (Walter Stahel) and Biomimicry (Janine Benyus), EIG is then able to facilitate the transition of companies and organizations towards the circular economy based on the assessments of products/services through cooperation agreement.

It is well known that the textile industry is a large consumer of water, energy, and chemicals required to produce fabric at several different stages of production. Through the various stages and processes of textile production, waste is produced and the environment is polluted. As such, the textile industry is responsible for producing different waste streams including; gaseous, liquid and solid waste most of which are quite hazardous.

In 2017, G-Star partnered with Artistic Milliners and EIG to develop the first-ever Cradle to Cradle Gold level Certified denim fabric, in the framework of the fashion positive initiative. The partnering company, Artistic Milliners, has the machinery and infrastructure to receive post-consumer recycled denim and transform it into the new fiber to manufacture new denim products. This project resulted in the company to achieve Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Gold denim fabric.



With many leading examples and proactive organizations, the shift towards circular design is already in motion. To bring in innovative changes required to alter the linear model, it is important to collaborate across all the divergent fields and think of these as dynamics within one large system. As we have moved into the Anthropocene we need to renounce the anthropocentric ideas that have shaped the world as we know today and extend our investigation that can reduce the impacts of our actions. Circular Design is just one of the many steps necessary to be taken at this instance.



Circular Amsterdam. (2016). [ebook] Gemeente Amsterdam. (

Circular Economy in Cities: Evolving the model for a sustainable urban future. (2018). [ebook] Switzerland: World Economic Forum. Available at: (

[Accessed 30 Nov. 2019]

Urban Metabolism: Sustainable Development of Rotterdam. (2014). [ebook] Rotterdam: Gemeente Rotterdam — IABR. Available at: (

[Accessed 30 Nov. 2019]

Ellen Macarthur Foundation & McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, Growth within, 2015, p. 12


The Urban Metabolism Framework was developed through projects such as ‘IABR-2014 A New Metabolism for Rotterdam’, ‘Omgevingsvisie Hart van Holland’ and ‘Circular Amsterdam



Approaching Circular Design is a critical reflection paper developed at IaaC, Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia at Master in City & Technology in (2019/2020) by:
Students: Jochen Morandell, Aryo Dhaneswara, and Kushal Saraiya
Faculties: Mathilde Marengo