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40 568 Circular prototyping: Critical mass

Full course name in Norwegian Bokmål: 
Circular prototyping: Critical mass
Course code: 
40 568
Level of study: 
Teaching semester: 
2024 Autumn
Assessment semester: 
2024 Autumn
Language of instruction: 
Maximum number of students: 
Person in charge
Tine Hegli
Required prerequisite knowledge

Admission to master in architecture at AHO and successful completion of three years bachelor level studies (180 ECTS).

Course content

Teacher team:

- Tine Hegli
- Andrea Pinochet
- Lina Broström
- Arnkell Petersen

The Circular Prototyping studio offers students a comprehensive understanding of architecture within the context of environmental sustainability. This semester the studio will examine surplus masses along with other earth and bio-based materials, and their potential use in the Nordic context. In particular, the studio will be concerned with the design of a prototypical building that could be prefabricated or mass-produced, quickly, and easily with surplus masses.


Surplus masses: From waste to resource

Surplus masses are the unused excavated masses, or material, that comes out of a construction site. The studio will interrogate how we can test and give agency of these excavated masses that are often regarded as waste in the building industry. What opportunities can new technology give us when working with them? 


Clay-rich soil is often considered a waste product in a contemporary excavation site —In 2021 alone, 12 million tons of earth masses were removed from building sites, often ending up in the landfills. Clay is present in various forms in large areas of the country and has been used as a building material for centuries. In Norway, for instance, we find many fine examples of earth buildings more than a century old. However, clay is not always well regarded by builders, in part because there are few building standards or products readily available in the local industry; and in part because the knowledge and craft of how to use clay has been lost over time. How can local history and informal knowledge prove relevant to confront today’s imminent ecological challenges? Can a renewed understanding of materials offer new opportunities for architecture? 



Through an in-depth study of these materials, we will gain a deeper understanding of how we can reframe our relationship with material extraction, shifting the balance in the building industry towards design choices that are more inclusive of earth and bio-based materials. We will also address issues relating to labor, building ethics and environmental politics. And we will discuss our role as architects in developing this new-old industry, with agency to instrumentalize traditional ecological knowledge and change the current building culture.


The studio will be part of a collaboration with Asplan Viak, Henning Larsen and other industry representatives.


Description of the studio series

The curriculum centers on the principles of circular building practices, with a specific focus on building materials and construction techniques that substantially mitigate environmental impact. These principles are investigated within a design-studio format, equipping students with vital tools to guide form-finding processes and facilitate critical evaluation of sustainability measures as an integral part of the design process. The design explorations also include climate adaptation as consideration of local weather and climate conditions, spanning the historical context, present circumstances, and future climate scenarios. These projections, in parallel with strategies to reduce negative impact, establish a meaningful link between present design choices and their alignment with the long-term UN Sustainability Goals (SDGs).


An essential aspect of the curriculum involves introducing students to the application of lifecycle methodology and environmental assessment (LCA) as a decision-making tool. LCA enables students to analyze the environmental impacts associated with linear versus circular practices, fossil versus renewable resources, and provides insight into policy considerations to facilitate sustainable outcomes.


The studio´s core activities revolve around design projects that mirror architectural practice. The hands-on experience with prototyping allows students to apply theoretical knowledge in a practical manner and foster a deeper understanding of possibilities and challenges at hand as we move forward into a future with circular economy and ecological awareness. Each studio semester focuses on in-depth investigations of different materials or components in relation to their environmental potential.

Learning outcome


  • of climate mitigation strategies relating to construction
  • of climate adaptation strategies relating to construction
  • of circular construction principals
  • of evaluating environmental impact of choices through quantification
  • of earth and bio-based materials (resource availability, properties, behavior, application)
  • of constructive logic in building with earth and bio-based materials
  • of historical and vernacular traditions in working with earth and bio-based materials
  • of regional climate conditions and thermal comfort



  • In analog/digital tools for calculation environmental impact (LCA)
  • In techniques and tools to build with natural materials in various ways
  • In circular design development from concept to finalized built project (from sketch to building manual and final assembly)
  • In practical and constructive detailing when working with earth and bio-based materials
  • In critical thinking upon standard practice and to reflect on future circular design possibilities and strategies


General competence:

  • Ability to design and assess our making from a circular perspective.
  • Assessing environmentally sound design results, learning to integrate in-depth materials investigations and big-data climate studies as parameters in the form-finding process.
  • In being able to understand possibilities of using earth and bio-based materials as an alternative to carbon intensive materials.
  • In understanding the complexity of a building process and construction site (resource availability, time, economy, transportation)
  • An awareness of the political agenda in relation to climate mitigation and adaption – nationally and internationally.
  • Design competence from working with conceptual models and drawings, physical models to scale, 3D models, 2D drawing 1:200 – 1:20.


Working and learning activities

The course is built up in 4 modules: 1) Nordic context 2) Prefabrication 3) Prototyping 4) Design development


Each module consists of 1 task, relevant lectures and readings, feed-back sessions, and pin-up.  There is expected presence at all common activities. We use outlook calendar for teaching activities and communication.


  1. Nordic context
  • Getting to know earth and bio-based (experiments, investigation)
  • Visiting relevant buildings in Norway.
  • Introduction to technical properties of materials (GWP, U-value, hygroscopic qualities, durability in exposed situations etc.)
  • Introduction to lifecycle methodology and LCA


  1. Prefabrication 
  • Study trip within Europe with purpose to learn from practices building with earth and bio-based as well as how to industrialize and scale up.
  • Studies of relevant built references.


  1. Prototyping 
  • Students are asked to develop and design a wall prototype for a Nordic context. A prototype that can work for various purposes.
  • Mock-ups in 1:1 will be worked on as an integral part of this phase. 


  1. Design development
  • The students will design a building with their prototype and work with drawings, models, and illustrations to strengthen their ideas.

Study trip within Europe.

Form of assessmentGroupingGrading scaleComment
Project assignmentIndividualPass / failPin-ups in plenum, weekly individual and group supervision, student-to-student feedback session, internal and external censor present at midterm and final review
Form of assessment:Project assignment
Grading scale:Pass / fail
Comment:Pin-ups in plenum, weekly individual and group supervision, student-to-student feedback session, internal and external censor present at midterm and final review