Circular Architecture is a Winning Concept

In order to limit climate change and preserve the Earth’s resources society needs to transition from a linear to a circular economy. There is a need for new ways of working and new business models that can facilitate the transition process. In the Selma Lagerlöf Centre in Gothenburg, White – through strong will and creativity – has succeeded in creating one of 2019’s best Swedish interior design projects, with 92% reused furniture- resulting in 70 percent lower costs compared with the use of new materials.


Viewing all existing materials as reusable raw material isn’t just a way of saving resources; it is also one of the most effective measures to slow down climate change. The transition to a circular economy requires changes in our lifestyle, attitudes and how we build. White is convinced that, by utilising existing urban areas, buildings and materials to a greater degree, it is possible to create new environments, buildings and products. In addition, new construction also needs to be based on a circular, long-term approach from an early stage of the design process. It might sound obvious, but it requires knowledge and collaboration across many supply chains in order to realise such a process.

In the new Selma Lagerlöf Centre in Gothenburg, great emphasis has been placed on circularity in the form of reused furniture and materials. The centre will be a meeting place for citizens in the Selma Stad district of Gothenburg and includes a library, theatre and municipal offices.

“For us it is a given that we must work in new ways to preserve the Earth’s resources. When we analysed the costs for the project, we found that it was almost 70 percent (9 million Swedish kronor (850,000 Euros)) cheaper to focus on maximising the use of reused furniture and materials rather than buying new products”, says Annie Leonsson, Lead Interior Architect for the project.


But there were more than just financial gains to be derived from this approach. Users and citizens were involved at an early stage of the process through workshops and interviews.


“We wanted those who will use the premises to feel that this is something they can be proud of, and to make it possible for them to recognise things from the past. At the same time, it’s important to be able to see that we’ve been careful with the use of environmental and economic resources”, explains Annie.

Selma Lagerlöf Centre

Location: Selma Lagerlöfs Torg, Gothenburg
Client: City of Gothenburg, District Administration – Norra Hisingen
Project period: 2017-2019
Lead Interior Architect: Annie Leonsson
Area: approx. 6,300 m²
Percentage of reused furniture and materials: 92%
Budget: The initial calculation showed that the purchase of new furniture and fittings would cost 12.8 million Swedish kronor. With reused furniture and materials this cost was reduced to 4.1 million kronor.
Climate: The Vinnova-funded project “Business Model Innovation for Closed-loop Furniture Flows”, which involves White and RISE, among others, shows that the carbon footprint can be reduced by 20 to 50 percent through the application of a circular model as opposed to a linear model.

The reuse strategy has been based on three main elements. Firstly, furniture was reused from six separate existing organisations that would later be moving their activities into the centre. Secondly, used furniture was procured as a complement to the items that already existed. And thirdly, used materials were purchased for the site-built interiors and to make new furniture.


“We wanted people to be able to see that the furniture and fittings have had a previous life. The result is a sort of confetti with different shapes and colours that enhance the concept and combine with the raw building to create a delightful overall effect. The one common element in the design is a “Selma label” that we have placed on everything we have reused”, says Annie.

The realisation of this project required a lot of creativity and innovation with regard to procurement, processes and the parties involved. For example, the City of Gothenburg needed to conduct a procurement process with a supplier of recycled and reused goods, something it had never done before. The assignment was awarded to a carpentry firm that assumed responsibility for the on-site carpentry work and for buying, storing and transporting the reused furniture and fittings. Then there was the issue of labelling, or marking, all of the reused furniture with the name “Selma”. How could that be done? In this case, inspiration was taken from a company that had developed a method for marking shipping containers. An entire weekend was then spent painting the name “Selma” onto more than 3,000 interior design items.


The work on the Selma Lagerlöf Centre has shown how crucial it is to have a clear process in order to succeed with a reuse project. The most important is to determine the ambitions at an early stage of the project, to set goals for the amounts of reused materials and to set a time schedule. A reuse project takes a little longer time than a project where all furniture and fittings are new, and it also requires more project management and cost control. A major logistical effort is required to find furniture and fittings that don’t need to be transported too far and can be delivered and stored successively throughout the course of the project.

For us it is a given that we must work in new ways to preserve the Earth’s resources.
Annie Leonsson, Lead Interior Architect

It is also necessary to perform an initial inventory to identify the items that are suitable for reuse, and it is important to clarify the roles within the project. For example, is it the interior architect, the client, or the supplier who will assess the quality of the furniture? Finally, more coordination is required on the part of the architect in terms of coordinating the furniture and fittings on site.


The Selma Lagerlöf Centre is one of the foremost examples of how it is possible to work in new ways. By adapting the design process and always basing our work on what already exists, we can further the transition towards circular architecture.

Our service: Transformation

Transformation is so much more than simply changing form – it is about developing instead of replacing. Read more »

Read more

Our service: Interior Design

To us, sustainability is all about creating environments that promote wellbeing within available resources. Read more »

Read more

Please share!