Barriers and Enablers to Circular Building Design in the US: An Empirical Study

Fernanda Cruz Rios, David Grau, Melissa Bilec

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


As discussions around the circular economy (CE) start to move beyond Eurocentric approaches, US stakeholders are left with the mission of carving their way into CE. The US building sector has substantial impacts in resource use, waste generation, and carbon emissions, and a long way to go on the path toward CE. Circular building design involves strategies such as design for disassembly (DfD) to allow future repair, remanufacture, and reuse of building components, building adaptive reuse, and using salvaged materials in new construction. Although strategies like DfD have been discussed for the last 2 decades, they have failed to gain traction in building design. However, there is a limited body of literature devoted to understanding the barriers and enablers for key circular building design strategies like DfD. A few recent empirical studies in European countries have identified barriers for circular building design, which in this study were categorized according to their nature (regulatory, economic, technical, educational, cultural, technological, and environmental barriers). However, given the different regulatory, economic, and cultural contexts in which the US is situated when compared with European countries, the barriers identified in prior studies and their respective enablers may not apply to the US. For example, contrary to European countries, the US is yet to create a national CE-specific legislation or action plan. Thus, bottom-up efforts from industry stakeholders are key to achieve progress toward CE in the US. Yet there are no studies that investigated barriers and enablers to circular building design in the US context. This study aims to fill this knowledge gap. The authors interviewed architects across the US to understand the perceived and experienced barriers to circular building design in the US building sector and propose enablers to overcome these barriers. The barriers differed in nature from those found in European countries: although the share of technical and economic barriers were similar, more educational and cultural barriers were found in the US, as opposed to a larger shares of regulatory and technological barriers in European countries. The authors discuss the most mentioned barriers in the US (e.g., cost and schedule constraints, lack of clarity on what CE entails, and existing regulations and codes hinder reuse and repair), and the barriers that were new to the literature (e.g., belief that DfD compromises building durability and resiliency, conflicting goals between pre-engineered structures and future reuse, and the widespread use of nondurable building components). Finally, the authors propose enablers to address each barrier and discuss the role of different stakeholders in implementing enablers. Policymakers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), industry associations, and researchers were the stakeholders with the highest leverage to enable CE in the US building sector.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number04021117
JournalJournal of Construction Engineering and Management
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021


  • Building design
  • Built environment
  • Circular buildings
  • Circular economy
  • Design for disassembly

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction
  • Industrial relations
  • Strategy and Management


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