The LifeCycle Studio explores advanced approaches to the design of sustainable buildings in the urban housing sector. Guided by circular economic principles and armed with tools that include dynamic modeling of buildings’ lifecycles and analyses of alternative industrial material flows, students will conduct research and develop designs for new modes and configurations of urban dwelling that incorporate materials and energy supply systems drawn from renewable sources and industrial and consumer waste streams. By considering both upstream ecological benefits and downstream improvements in public health, students will engage some of the most deeply entrenched problems of contemporary global society: housing and social equity for a rapidly expanding and urbanizing global population, the over-consumption of planetary resources, and the role of building production and operation in driving climate change. Ultimately, the studio will examine—through its own collective design work and an accompanying research program—the ways in which circular economic principles can promote a new design culture, one that leverages abundant and underutilized environmental resources as it seeks to address pressing global environmental crises.

Organization and Objectives

The LifeCycle Studio at the Yale School of Architecture will be conducted contemporaneously and in collaboration with an advanced Master level studio at Department of Architecture at Aalto University in Otaniemi, Finland. Both studios will work on the same architectural project—a program of new, high density housing for Jätkäsaari, an urban development zone in a former industrial district on Helsinki’s western waterfront. The theme of housing in, for, and by the circular economy will form the foundation of the Yale/Aalto studio. Students will share research, analytical methods, and design approaches and may choose to enter into direct design collaborations with their Finnish counterparts through a series of meetings in Helsinki during the YSOA travel week and subsequently through on-line meeting and information exchange platforms. Students from Aalto University will in turn travel to New Haven for collective final presentations during the YSOA final review week in December.

The research component of the studio will be supported by a series of interdisciplinary lectures and seminars in environmental science, silviculture, industrial ecology, environmental policy, emergent architectural practices, and circular economic manufacturing from Yale and Aalto University faculty, Finnish and US government representatives, and industry experts. In addition, student design work will be supported by quantitative analyses conducted in collaboration with graduate students at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies’ Center for Industrial Ecology and Global Institute for Sustainable Forestry.

The specific building program of the studio derives from an official competition and public challenge for housing reform in Helsinki that poses the simple but provocative question: how will we live, design, and build for the future? The competition will be published officially on September 3rd with entries due in early December. Individual students and/or student teams may choose to participate in the competition.

The LifeCycle Studio seeks to address the following goals of the YSOA Strategic Plan 2018:

  • Research and Pedagogy for design and construction in the 21st century;
  • The engagement of institutional resources through interdisciplinary collaboration;
  • External engagement with partner institutions in higher education and research, government, and industry;
  • The expansion and enrichment of studio culture at the school.


The following is a tentative travel itinerary and schedule of events in and around Helsinki:

Day 0: Departure JFK to Helsinki

Day 1: Arrival Helsinki
- Jätkäsaari Site visit/ new timber building and city district tours
- Dinner with Aalto University studio and faculty

Day 2:
- Alvar Aalto studio and house tour
- Circular Design Symposium
- Professor Pekka Heikinnen – Advanced Timber Design in Europe
- Dr. Matti Kuittinen – Carbon Footprinting for Building Designers
- Professor Kimmo Lylykangas – Strategies in Low-carbon Architecture
- Sauna at Kultuurisauna

Day 3: Helsinki
- Circular Economic Policy Meeting with SITRA representatives
- Finnish Environmental Ministry tour
- Meeting with policy makers and government representatives
- Collaborative design session with Aalto studio
- Reception at US Embassy

Day 4: Bus Tour
- Bus to Stora Enso, Hartola
- Tour of mass timber modular housing manufacturing facility
- Bus to Jyväskylä
- Tour of Murratsalo Experimental House
- Tour of Säynätsalo Town Hall
- Tour of Puukuokka Housing Block

Day 5:
- Bus to Noormarkku
- Tour of Villa Mairea—new modes of living for the 20th century
- Bus to Paimio
- Tour of Paimio Sanatorium
- Bus to Fiskars

Day 6:
- Tour of artists and artisan workshops, Fiskars
- Tour of Nikari Oy workshop with Mikko Merz
- Carbon positive/circular economic product design and manufacture
- Bus returns to Helsinki

Day 7: Helskinki
- Design charrette with Aalto Studio
- Helsinki building tours
- Pia Ilonen, Tila Open Build Housing
- HMV Architects, Vikki Housing
- Matti Iliramio, Eskolantie Apartments
- Sauna at Löyly

Day 8: Departure Helsinki/arrival JFK


Originally developed by environmental economists in the late 1980s, the concept of a “circular economy” encompasses a societal shift away from linear, extractive production-consumption models and towards a restorative, regenerative economic framework. Effectively, this reconceptualization of traditional economic models marks a transition from our contemporary production economy to an emergent performance economy, in which entire systems are designed for sustainable, renewable, and regenerative operation.

In 2015, the European Union adopted the “EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy,” an ambitious legislative policy document designed to stimulate Europe’s transition to a circular economy. Specifically, the policy seeks to “close the loop” in each step of the industrial supply chain: eliminating wasted energy and materials during extraction and production, encouraging product repair and material recycling, and improving waste management practices to feed secondary materials back into the economy as recycled products or energy. Not only does the EU action plan represent a general trend towards promoting environmentally healthy practices, but it seeks to capitalize on what McKinsey & Company has identified as a €1.8 trillion market opportunity by 2030.

Recognizing the financial potential of pivoting towards a more sustainable economy, Finland recently published the world’s first national circular economy transition plan, with a stated goal to become a global leader in the circular economy by 2025. Developed by the Finnish Innovation Fund (SITRA), the Finland transition model identifies a number of “loops” in which specific innovations can drive economic transformation. Specifically, the “Forest-based Loop” highlights the capacity for biogenic building materials to simultaneously reduce the embodied carbon emissions of the built environment while promoting healthy forest ecologies.

In addition to promoting the circular economy through policy reports, SITRA has also initiated a funding program for joint university collaborations invested in furthering circular economic principles within specific disciplines. With support from SITRA, the Yale School of Architecture has partnered with Aalto University’s School of Arts, Design and Architecture to undertake an ambitious 3-term design-assess-build course module that will apply the concepts of the circular economy to iterative design practice. Each university will operate their 3-term sequence in parallel, with periodic moments of convergence and collaboration between the two programs. Beyond the traditional expectations of an advanced design studio, this course will introduce students to principles of the circular economy and the research methods, analytical tools, and design techniques necessary to implement circular economic and carbon neutral strategies in the construction of buildings of high quality and minimal carbon footprint. By providing a replicable methodology in the context of a multi-stakeholder and multi-objective building design process, the studio provides students with the conceptual and practical knowledge to fully engage the circular economy in the design, analysis, and construction of the built environment.

All Semesters

Fall 2020
Advanced Design Studio: Troubled Waters
Tod Williams, Billie Tsien, Andrew Benner
Fall 2019
Advanced Design Studio: Next Generation Tourism—Touching the Ground Lightly
Patrick Bellew, John Spence, Henry Squire, Timothy Newton
Fall 2017
Future-Proofing the Waterfront of Devonport, New Zealand
Peggy Deamer
Fall 2016
Papahānaumokuākea: Dark Ecology and Strange Toys
Mark Foster Gage