Zero Waste Church: Education for Circular Reuse of Religious Buildings

J.M. dos Santos Gonçalves, W.J. Quist, O. Ioannou

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeConference contributionScientificpeer-review

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While heritage conservation is usually associated with the action of “keeping”, circular approaches are often seen as focusing on flexibility, and disassembly. Both share the common goal of using existing resources efficiently and avoiding waste. The conservation of cultural heritage is a complex issue that requires a cautious balance between maintaining heritage values associated with tangible and intangible attributes and managing change to answer the challenges of future use. On the one hand, mining the urban environment for material resources, risks irreparable damage to the historic urban fabric. On the other hand, salvaging components from heritage buildings and re-purposing them can be a sustainable strategy to extend a buildings’ lifetime and minimize construction waste. In the case of buildings threatened by demolition, as several churches in the Netherlands, salvaging components might even be the only way to keep (some) of this heritage alive. In these cases, circular design approaches need to go beyond inventorying materials and components: the traceability of values and meanings to the involved communities become key factors driving reuse strategies. The Zero Waste Church graduation studio at TU Delft provides architecture students with the opportunity to discuss how heritage values might shift to integrate sustainability as a value to preserve. The students selected cases based on three key circularity principles: refuse, reduce, and value retention. By choosing vacant buildings, the students were prompted to refuse the notion of building new and to value space as a limited resource. Some of the selected buildings faced demolition, resulting in projects that have the potential to reduce material waste. Through a heritage value assessment, the students demonstrated that despite being under threat, these heritage buildings still add value to local communities. Students explored creative approaches to redesign from values related to tangible and intangible attributes. This approach aims at instigating awareness and transformative attitudes towards the built environment. Individual students approach the challenge from different perspectives, contributing to a multitude of readings and strategies to deal with the complexity of bridging heritage and circularity. The implementation of the first edition of the Zero Waste studio faced challenges when conflicts arose in determining what to keep, add or transform. A key learning from this experience is that circularity needs to be an integrated part of a design project from the earliest stages. While a fully zero waste heritage may be an unachievable ambition, the aim is to trigger reflection and adopt an explorative approach towards a project.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAs Found International Colloquium on Adaptive Reuse
Subtitle of host publicationBook of Abstracts
EditorsNadin Augustiniok
PublisherHasselt University
Number of pages2
ISBN (Electronic)9789089130839
Publication statusPublished - 2023
EventAs Found: International Colloquium on Adaptive Reuse - Hasselt University & Flanders Architecture Institute, Hasselt, Belgium
Duration: 5 Sept 20237 Sept 2023


ConferenceAs Found
OtherFrom 5 to 7 September 2023 the Flanders Architecture Institute and Hasselt University organized the international colloquium As Found. It aimed to bring together designers, researchers and students to discuss experimental concepts and practices to intervene in the existing built environment and heritage.

The colloquium is closely linked with the exhibition As Found which will take place from September 2023 until March 2024 in De Singel in Antwerp.
Internet address

Bibliographical note

The organization of this international colloquium was made possible through the generous fi nancial support of the DIOS Incentive Fund (UHasselt), the Doctoral School of Behavioral Sciences and Humanities (UHasselt), and the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), as well as the invaluable practical assistance provided by the Faculty of Architecture and Arts of UHasselt and the Flanders Architecture Institute. Our heartfelt appreciation goes out to all our esteemed colleagues whose dedicated efforts contributed to the seamless execution of this event. This colloquium is organized as an extension of the exhibition As Found: Experiments in Preservation by the Flanders Architecture Institute. Curated by Sofie De Caigny, Hulya Ertas and Bie Plevoets, the exhibition is on show at De Singel, Antwerp, from 6 September 2023 to 17 March 2024. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, available in English (ISBN: 9789492567321) and Dutch (ISBN: 9789492567338).


  • keeping
  • circular approach
  • zero waste
  • heritage building
  • heritage buildings
  • heritage values


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