The Urban Mining & Recycling (UMAR) experimental unit is part of the NEST research building on the campus of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (Empa) in Dübendorf, Switzerland. The design by Werner Sobek with Dirk E. Hebel and Felix Heisel shows how responsible use of our natural resources can be combined with appealing architecture.

Paving the Way for Urban Mines of the Future

The design is based on the thesis that all resources needed to produce a building must be completely reusable, recyclable or compostable. This idea of recycling plays a central role. The materials used are not consumed and then disposed of; rather, they are taken out of a technical or natural cycle for a certain period of time and are later returned to it. Reuse and recycling play just as important a role here as upcycling (both on a systemic and on a molecular or biological level, e.g. by melting down or composting). UMAR is thus both a temporary material warehouse and material laboratory.


Reusable, Compostable or Recyclable According to Type and Residue-Free

The building, which is completely prefabricated and tested in the factory, is a modular construction. The supporting structure as well as large parts of the façade are made of untreated wood that can be reused or composted after deconstruction. The façade is also made of aluminium and copper. Both types of metal can be melted down and recycled. In the interior, a wide variety of serially processed building products are used, whose different materials can also be returned to their various material cycles without sorting or residues. Among other things, grown mycelium panels, innovative recycled bricks, recycled insulation materials, borrowed floor coverings, and a multifunctional solar thermal system are used here.

Material Store and Public Information Store

Visitors can find out about all the materials and products used, as well as about the sustainability concept developed by Werner Sobek, in the Unit’s entrance area and in its own materials library. This is because the UMAR unit is not only a storehouse of materials, but also a public repository of information that is intended to serve as a model and inspiration for other building projects.

UMAR wants to contribute to the overdue paradigm shift in the building industry. The module serves as a laboratory and test run for a building project as well as for the associated process. The aim is to look at central questions of construction and resource consumption with partners from planning, administration and production and to develop innovative tools and methods from this.

Video of the installation process of the unit

Article from BBC online on the topic

Design and project planning
Werner Sobek with Dirk E. Hebel and Felix Heisel, Stuttgart and Karlsruhe (DE)

Planning time
2015 − 2016

Construction time

Services by Werner Sobek

  • Design
  • Facade engineering
  • Sustainability concept

155 m²

Empa Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, Dübendorf (CH)

Zooey Braun, Stuttgart (DE)

Premio Architettura – Honourable Mention 2019
beyond bauhaus – prototyping the future 2019

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