Can we go beyond recycling ?

Can we go beyond recycling ?

Can we go beyond recycling ? 1920 1280 Francesco Cingolani

Traditionally presented as an answer to human needs and  a metric to define boundaries between what is possible and what is not, technology is nowadays behaving as an independent agent for change, opening new fields to be explored instead of answering questions or solve technical issues.

I was trained as an architect and construction engineer; I graduated in 2004.
Back then, I realize now I’ve been thinking about technology as something that defines the rules and the playground of creativity. In such a mindset, we live in the illusion to know what technology allows to do and what it doesn’t. We take such boundaries for granted, and we work inside them.

Design and Fabrication workshop at Volumes.

In 2014, when we founded Volumes creative and productive hub, our vision was to create an environment where technology and people could connect with and through digital technologies to create high social impact.

After 5+ years of experimental activity in the hub, and some experience in teaching and research in computational design, I now look at technology as something that opens new and large perspectives instead of creating boundaries. A tool for exploration; an extremely powerful and evolutionary agent that can – and should – be driven with a design mindset to achieve unexpected, impactful solutions.

In that mindset the question “what is possible to do” shift to “what is important do do?”, “what do we want to achieve?”, “in which areas we want to make an impact?”. To me, Having this questions in mind means to drive technology with a design mindset.

Fab City Summit in Paris, 2018.
Photo : Stefano Borghi

In 2018, some members of the Fab City Global Initiative invited Volumes to codesign an applied research project on circular economy. The aim was to understand and transform urban material flows and to co-create and test circular and regenerative solutions at business, governance and citizen levels.

This was the perfect response to the question “in which areas we want to make an impact”. We accepted the challenge and what came out is the REFLOW project, funded by the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union with a consortium of 27 members coordinated by the Copenhagen Business School.

The project kicked-off in June 2019 and Volumes specific contribution is an incubation program called – here we are – DRIVEN. We just kicked-off a few days ago.

DRIVEN is an incubation program that embeds advanced Computational Design strategies in Early Stage Entrepreneurship for a Circular Economy.

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Contemporary cities can be read as complex organisms with a “metabolic behavior” made also of different material flows (wood, food, plastic, textiles, steel, concrete, etc…). These flows are nowadays not organized (and consequently not optimized) because they are individually independent and not systematically coordinated/designed in terms of space and time flow.

In addition to that design, architecture and construction workflow traditionally follows a linear process based on the principle that design needs to respond to a specific need or function. Once the ideation phase of design is done, we then start thinking in terms of construction materials and we cut, bend, 3dprint, extrude, etc … raw materials.

In this context, can we:

  • go beyond recycling and reverse the way we design, fabricate and build?
  • think about digital technologies & computational design as a set of tools capable of augmenting our design space and include material scarcity and it possible reuse as a performance parameter in the process?
  • learn from the data and create intelligent systems that self-organize for a better flow management of resources?


The alchemy of DRIVEN is created by triggering unexpected and innovative connections between those questions and 4 areas of expertise : Computational Design, Computational Fabrication, Machine Learning and Data Visualization. DRIVEN onboards early stage projects and fuel them with those knowledge to drive their evolution and maximize their impact.

We will share more info soon on this blog!
In the meantime, feel free to comment below for any question, we are waiting for feedback and will respond promptly and with passion ! ❤️

For those who want more, there is more:

  • Beginners Online Workshops
    We are currently incubating 3 (+1 to be confirmed) projects in the DRIVEN incubation beta version. A call for projects to be onboarded next fall will be published before the summer.
    In order to apply for the incubation program – but also to register for the advanced workshops below – we require basic skills in Computational Design and Digital Fabrication.
    For this reasons, we are providing 2 online workshops for beginners :
    – Computational Design: Introduction to Rhino and Grasshopper tutored by Eugenio Bettucchi (Noumena) from May 25th to 29th – registrations are open***early birds tickets available until May 10th***
    – Introduction to Digital Fabrication tutored by Samantha Melnik from June 1st to 5th – registrations are open.

  • Advanced Online Workshops
    This workshop series aims to attract entrepreneurs, designers and makers to join the incubation program and develop circular solutions. These educational events also serve to incubated projects to challenge their ideas and explore new ones.
    Basic skills in Computational Design are required for the 2 workshops below :
    – Discrete Automation tutored by Gilles Retsin (AUAR) & Kevin Saey (AUAR) from June 15th to 19th – registrations open soon.
    – Machine Learning for Adaptive Temporary Architecture tutored by Mateusz Zwierzycki (Object) from June 22nd to 26th – registrations open soon.
    More info about the workshop series at

  • Challenges
    In our beta version of DRIVEN, we are currently tackling 2 different challenges within the circular economy :
    – Wood Material Use Efficiency for Temporary Constructions
    – Urban Metabolism and Logistics
    If your company want to join DRIVEN with a different challenge, feel free to contact us at
    More info about the current challenges we are exploring at

  • Reflow approach to Circular Economy
    From the Reflow whitepaper : The EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan explains CE as an economy “where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible,and the generation of waste minimised”. It can therefore be understood that CE not only aims to increase the efficiency of resource use, but also to achieve a better balance and harmony between economy, environment and society.
    For more info about Reflow specific approach of circular economy, you can check Reflow website and read about the Reflow handbook for cities.

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