Cities are filled with waste materials and the need to reuse existing resources has become key in fighting the increase in waste production. More than a third of all the waste generated in the EU comes from construction and demolition, containing different materials such as glass, concrete, bricks and ceramics. But how to manage this staggering amount of waste production from construction? According to the Spanish Law on Waste and Contaminating Soils, concrete and ceramic waste with no considerable processing can both be reused in construction . By combining reused material waste with technology, architectural design can create innovative solutions that contribute to minimizing environmental impact.
Among the new strategies proposed by the Balearic Islands for renewable material production, Loop Disseny stands out as an architecture project developed by Balearic Islands’s Institute for Business Innovation. Promoting the implementation of the circular design economy as a strategic element, it focuses on reusing existing materials and transforming them into resources for the creation of new products. This way, Loop adds value to local materials and solid waste generated by industry or the city itself, without creating extra waste. Through the implementation of four main principles –circularity, reuse, transformation and proximity– the project aims to create material-based sustainable strategies towards a circular economy, where design is incorporated in its early development.
Within this process of redefinition and creation of products that blend in with the surrounding environment, Loop took the challenge of developeding a new material based on the combination of pre-existing ceramics from ‘Ladrillerias Mallorquinas’: the Hygroscopic Mortar. The process unifies waste ceramics and recycled stone with low impact natural cement that creates a hygroscopic material, which is able to attract and hold water from the environment.
Sustainability: Incorporating Reused Local Materials
The first steps of the project aimed to understand the Island’s position regarding environmental issues. According to Pau de Vilchez Moragues (UIB), the exponential increase in the consumption of fossil fuels is closely linked to how we understand the economy and manufacturing processes. This implies, amid other things, rethinking our production system.
With this in mind, Loop gives a second life to the waste that is created from the 250,000 annual tons of material produced by ‘Ladrillerias Mallorquinas’. Aiming for a circular economy –extending the product’s life– and respecting the ‘0 km materials’ concept, all the materials used are locally available in Mallorca. While encouraging the use of local products, the 0 km architecture approach incorporates sustainable solutions that reduce the need for transport and are linked to the identity of the Island.
Since the new mortar is made up of a high percentage of stone materials with a carbon footprint of almost zero, together with the other reused ceramic products with no further processing, the overall carbon footprint of the material has a low impact on the environment.
‘There is a concept inside urban mining that looks at constructed cities as quarries of new materials.’ – Guillem Aloy Bibiloni, Architect
Fabrication Process: Promoting Multidisciplinary Solutions
Prior to selecting ceramics as the main material, a multidisciplinary process –integrated by architects, designers, researchers and commercial areas– analyzed the industry’s waste production, differentiating the diverse products in it and their potential. The project chose a product that followed the identity of the Island: ‘Boveda Mallorquina’. After separating the selected product from the rest of the waste, a new life was given to the product, which had a spontaneous and warm aesthetic, adaptable to different styles. In order to achieve the final product’s objective, the process studied the relationship between ceramics and stone materials as compatible aggregates, and natural cement as a low impact binder.
‘LOOP is a word that refers to a process, system or circular structure that ends where it starts and vice versa.’
Material Composition: Ceramic and White Cement
The Hygroscopic Mortar is composed of 85% reused crushed ceramics with recycled stone and 15% stabilized white cement as a low impact binder. Because of its hygroscopic condition, the obtained product functions as a water filter and regulates the environment’s humidity.
‘When rethinking the interaction with natural resources –and their limits– it is key to use what we already have.’ – Pau de Vilchez Moragues, Legal Analyst at Climate Change Litigation Initiative
The Outcome: One Material and Endless Possibilities
The process produced an aggregate characterized by its high hygroscopic properties, with a resistance that is adaptable to different types of uses such as construction, building and renovations.
As the use of ceramic limits the structural performance of paving stones for traffic and heavy loads, the project decided to focus on paving in pedestrian networks, bicycle lanes, non-motorised roads and green areas, as an alternative option to asphalt in cities. According to Loop, its hygroscopic and draining properties allow water to naturally seep into the ground, or be captured and retained in lower layers for subsequent reuse or controlled drainage, establishing a relationship with the natural environment.
The design process elaborated three units from which each future project can arrange an infinite number of possibilities. According to the project style, architects and designers can play with abstract and organized patterns, all coming from just three material units.
‘From three units, you can make an infinite number of solutions.’ – Cristina Santandreu, Balearic Islands’s Institute for Business Innovation
Team Members and Collaboration
As an initiative from the Institute for Business Innovation of the Balearic Islands (IDI), Loop Project creates Hygroscopic Mortar as part of their new generation of products that encourages the use of sustainable and innovative material solutions.
The research on using local waste materials of inorganic origin is a collaboration with the Architectural Constructions and Building Engineering Research Group (UIB/FUEIB). The research and industrial development was also in collaboration with ‘Pavimentos Lloseta’, while the raw materials were obtained from ‘Ladrillerias Mallorquinas’ and ‘Pavimentos Lloseta’.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 10, 2022