Reflection on Circular Design



MaCT 01

In the Responsive Cities Symposium 2019, a broad range of topics and projects with circular design strategy at its core were discussed. Although all projects had their different unique approaches and scales to confront the linear system and incorporate circularity in their work, they shared a vision of a resilient future for the earth. As a result, the issues discussed and/or addressed by most of the scholars shared a commonality that is related to managing resources (including waste). And connecting these dots (resources) in a way that every dot in the system has a unique role to play that complements the role of another. These ideas also help effectively point out underlying issues of conventional ‘create, consume, dispose’ process, and opens a whole new paradigm for discussion.

Discussions certainly presented the merits of the circular system over the traditional linear system by acting symbiotically with nature, something that can help humanity address critical issues like climate change. But this act of change can also pave the way for another challenge, of how to harmoniously incorporate circular design strategies in the context of a linear system. If the circular system at its inchoate state fails to function with the existing linear system symbiotically, we, humanity, risk invaluable resources. Circular design ought to take into account all stages of its development. That’s why it is also a challenge for humanity to ensure a smooth transition from linear to circular system. Moreover, as research presented at the symposium dealt with diverse scales, there is also an opportunity to be  strategic about selecting the type of research humanity choose to conduct within the broader realm of circular design. By choosing to develop components that belong to the same ‘family’, we might be able to start testing them independently even before conception or existence of  design component at a larger scale. That would allow us time to design and redesign relationships within the family and components itself.

From responsive cities we learn that we as humanity need to brace for new challenges that were inconceivable 20 years ago. Even the greatest geniuses were unaware of these consequences of relishing in ‘temporary comfort’ of fossil fuels. Now in 2019, ask any child even as young as 10-years-old- he/she would be aware about global warming,  not just that,  he/she would be very much convinced how it could take off his/her favorite animal from the surface of the earth. At a time when  issues like climate change and scarcity of natural resources are adding question mark on human existence, the Responsive city symposium left a profound impact on us. It left us optimistic about the future of humanity. After decades of consistent development in various fields, at last in the 21st century humanity at least started to pay more attention to what is happening to the planet earth. With the approach of circular design, rather than focusing on benefits and consequences of particular actions, we as humanity have started to recognize the hidden potential of seemingly obsolete materials and  take advantage of them in favor of the environment.

Globalism has unintentionally paved the way to a present wherein we don’t experience the direct consequences of our day to day decisions as consumers. To some extent, it’s become even more comfortable to detach oneself from the responsibility and delegate it to someone else. The impact is instead, felt in some other part of the world; and, often by a specific socio-economic class. Wherein, on this other end, the concerns of the world is almost inconsequential when faced by the immediate problems and concerns of everyday life. The “not in sight, not in mind mentality” has led us to the environmental crisis we now face today. It may be that the reason why the linear economy is the system that prevails is that it facilitates a culture of passiveness and no accountability. At this point, however, everyone is involved in some way. The circular economy takes on this responsibility and acknowledges that there is a consequence for every action. We turn to nature and ease back to how things originally were – cyclical. Waste and pollution, which are human concepts foreign to nature, are factored out of the equation. Instead, the circular economy provides an active model of recovery and regeneration as opposed to short term convenience and disposal.  The role of every architect or creator, therefore, consists of designing processes and things that will change humanity’s behavior and lifestyle to provide sustainable development.

Waste that humanity produces is one of the problems that contribute a lot to the issue that we faced. A lot of scientific researchers in a try to find a solution for our problems become  consciously or unconsciously irresponsible, heavy consumers. However, the problem concerns not only scientists but everyone. The role of every architect or creator consists of designing processes and things that will change humanity’s behavior  and lifestyle, in order to provide sustainable development. So, circular design  seems as one of the solutions.

The name “Circular Economy” speaks for itself. It is the design of processes in which participants and means shift within a cycle. However, this movement does not merely mean that the elements of this cycle are always the same. Instead, it concerns the course that the objects and their means follow. There are innumerable possibilities in the interpretation of circular design. While participants and objects change, the course stays the same. There are a lot of methods to include circular design in everyday life. Each of us can interpret it differently. In some cases, items are not only kept in the loop, but present items are also utilized at the highest level. With regards to waste, its model is not just recycling, but limiting waste on the onset and ensuring material longevity. Another attribute of the circular economy is to improve materials into something better than how they were originally found. Let’s observe some examples.

First of all, we have to understand that the objects within the cycle could be abstract or physical. Knowledge, information, and data are also essential parts of the circular movement. Exchanging information is one of the fundamental principles of circular design. Similarly, as ramous acquire new details as it traverses from one person to another, information like a snowball is accumulated with useful parts. Participants use these parts and proceed to circulate them with more details. For instance, the government can apply the circular model to get feedback from citizens. Barcelona city council practices a platform designed for all residents towards building a more democratic city. Citizens are invited to prioritize, propose, and choose aspects of city development that they consider the most valuable. That bilateral procedure allows city authorities to make more appropriate solutions. In that case, the information flows within a circle, from one participant to another, and generates milieu convenient for everyone.

Digital app for residents. Provided by Barcelona city council.


Another case of circular design implementation is by the European Commission and their decision to define nature-based solutions and re-nurturing our cities. The main goals are to enhance sustainable urbanization, to improve the restoration of degraded ecosystems, and to develop climate change adaptation. All these are possible by using nature as a model for future development. Processes that occur in non-urban environments are reintegrated into urban systems. One example of such systems is the natural cooling of air through plants that absorb heat. Methods similar to this is being proposed by the European Commission to cool our buildings. Simply planting grass at the top of buildings can reduce temperature to approximately 10 degrees.

Goals of European commission toward nature-based design.

Another attribute of circular design is not merely doing less but generating a positive impact. One example is food waste recycling. There are a lot of proposals around the world regarding the reuse of organic waste. Enormous landfills produce methane gas that fosters the greenhouse effect. Scientists managed to find a way to capture that biogas and convert it into energy – a brilliant example of generating reusable energy. There are also cases wherein organic waste can be used as material to create everyday objects. The University of Genoa is elaborating on the approach of using food waste and processing them to convert into simple objects like dishes, buttons, and even textiles. According to this, food is the driver in that case of circular design.

One more and most obvious example is food waste recycling.  There are a lot of proposals around the world on how to reuse organic waste. Enormous landfills produce methane gas that foster greenhouse effect.  Though, scientists found a way to capture that biogas and convert it into energy. So, that process is a bright example of generating reusable energy. Moreover, organic waste can be used as material to create new objects of everyday life.  The University of Genoa is elaborating on the approach of using food waste to create simple things like dishes, buttons and even textile. According to this, food is the driver in that case of circular design.


Plates of coconut waste. University of Genoa. Creative Food Cycles.

Unfortunately, circular design doesn’t work in every place in the world. Its implementation in some countries, as with the case of Russia, faces difficulties such as lack of attention from the government and the fact that regular citizens do not acknowledge the issues of a linear economy. A most evident example is the absence of waste recycling and development in Russia. People don’t separate their home waste, and everything goes to the dump. Hectares of land are dedicated to landfills and poison the ground and water. The circular economy is especially hard to implement in third world countries as the concerns of the government are, most often, directed to more immediate territorial concerns. In the Philippines, there is a lack of political will to resolve waste management. Roads, canals, and waterways are always either riddled with or clogged by single-use plastics. Smokey mountain and Payatas dump have become landmarks of sorts due to their high-reaching altitude of waste. The general populace is also unconcerned and continues to rely on small packets of single-use plastics for everyday products such as shampoos and drinks. The country has even gotten involved in a global trash trade wherein trash is imported from other countries, only to be dumped on landfills. Energy and water, which are provided by private companies, are also inefficiently managed. This causes yearly blackouts and water shortages.

In order to apply some concepts, governments should provide the necessary infrastructure, enlighten people, and propose some policy changes. For instance, waste recycling factories and transportation facilities must be provided first. Moreover, massive education to heighten awareness of waste matters should also become a part of the program. Only after proceeding all these  circular design concepts can be applied, and we will witness positive change.

Everyone holds a certain extent of responsibility to the present environmental crisis. We, as designers, should take on the role of leaders and push events to build new type of humanistic values by designing awareness behavior. Under all these circumstances, there are a lot of methods to incorporate circular design to everyday life. Each of us can interpret it in a different way. But, the common understanding  is the repeated and regenerative use to lower waste, mistakes, and effects that we have on the main problem of the 21st century. For us, metaphorically ‘Circular design’ is like Phoenix- a mythological long lived bird  that cyclically takes rebirth by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.



  1. Circular Economy Design (2019). Anna Queralt
  2. Nature-based Design (2019). Francisco Javier Peinado
  3. Metabolic Design (2019). Eric Frijters
  4. Participatory Design (2019). Anna Majo Crespo
  5. Creative Food Cycles (2019). Silvia Pericu


  1. Ajuntament de Barcelona. Retrieved from:

  2. European Commission. Retrieved from:

  3. Creative Food Cycles. Retrieved from:

  4. The Circular Design Guide. Retrieved from:

  5. Philippines plastic pollution: why so much waste ends up in oceans. Retrieved from:



  1. Archifutures Vol. 5: Apocalypse (2018). dpr-barcelona


 Reflection on 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: Linara Salikhova, Rovianne Santiago, Akshay A Marsute
Faculties: Mathilde Marengo