image of building materials on display
Reusing materials and products from older buildings is not without its challenges, as Stantec’s Italy office discovered while creating the exhibit “A Valuable Collection of Things” for Alcova during Milan Design Week 2023.

Can Designers Find New Beauty in Circularity?

METROPOLIS’s July/August 2023 issue looks at the many benefits of circular, regenerative design—including new forms of pleasure and delight.

In the first seven months after its opening, Bonnet Springs Park in Lakeland, Florida, welcomed a million visitors. Just a few years prior to that, it was an abandoned site with 300,000 cubic yards of arsenic-contaminated soil. Knowing that the lush hills, bodies of water, play structures, and wetlands so painstakingly shaped and nurtured by the team at Sasaki were once an unloved postindustrial landscape makes them even more enjoyable—there is a sense of salvation there, and pride in the accomplishments of human persistence. 

This is just one of the many kinds of beauty to be found in designs for a circular, regenerative future. 

Detroit has an extraordinary concentration of abandoned buildings being converted for 21st-century purposes. “The ways in which adaptive reuse can become a core component of our quickly changing built world—and make buildings flexible enough to adapt to today’s needs and those of the future—are playing out here in real time,” writes Metropolis editor at large Sam Lubell. His reporting points out the many challenges in adapting all kinds of floor plates, footprints, and column grids for contemporary use, but also the unique opportunity to prepare these buildings for unforeseen future uses. That is another kind of beauty in the best adaptive reuse projects—the hidden joys of flexible design details, dormant until the next architect or designer tasked with preparing the building for a new use discovers them. 

There are many practical reasons for pursuing circularity in the built environment.

Avinash Rajagopal, METROPOLIS editor in chief

A third form of satisfaction that reuse and circularity can give us is embodied by our seven Superstars of Salvage. This is the beauty of entrepreneurship, the ability to see value where others cannot and to turn that into economic and social opportunity. From the Throwbacks Home vintage store in Detroit (a supplier of curated found items for commercial projects) to the Carbon Avoided: Retrofit Estimator (a tool to help architects visualize the climate benefits of reuse), a special group of pioneering small businesses and resources is paving the way for the rest of us. 

A fourth kind of beauty is powered by the adrenaline of taking a moon shot: As I lay out in 10 Provocations for Circular Design, there are nearly impossible odds stacked against the creation of a truly sustainable, equitable, and resilient built environment. We have no choice left but to find new ideals of aesthetics and to change our worldview—moving away from overconsumption and the extraction of resources toward a more harmonious way of existing. 

There are many practical reasons for pursuing circularity in the built environment. But what excites me the most is that in our effort to save ourselves and other life on the planet, we have embarked on a quest for new forms of beauty. 

Here are all the stories from the July/August 2023 issue:


Salvage Superstars

At All Scales

Lighting and Design

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