Energiser gives new life to old bricks – Claus Juul Nielsen receives the Building Component Award

In Svendborg, Claus Juul Nielsen has been dedicated to turning old bricks into new building gold that provides new builds with both soul and sustainability He receives VILLUM FONDEN’s and VELUX FONDEN’s Building Component Award 2021 for his work with breathing new life into one of the world’s oldest building materials.

In 2003, Claus Juul Nielsen’s working life went from numerous business trips to the United States and Asia to a vibratory polishing machine in an icy warehouse surrounded by silos, abandoned equipment and about 30,000 bricks in stock. Claus Juul Nielsen took over the machinery and bricks from a previous project that had tried to create a business based on making bricks reusable by means of a special vibration technique. And the orders were not exactly lining up when Claus Juul Nielsen threw himself into the project. But a lot has happened from this modest start.

Precursor of circular economy with CE approval

The then abandoned equipment is now being used to polish bricks on a large scale, the order books are full for the next many months and the company, named Gamle Mursten (Old Bricks), is supplying CE-approved recycled bricks to new building projects as the only enterprise in the EU. There is sustainability, soul and good economy in this.

But the business, which has, among other distinctions, been awarded as a Gazelle Company three times, did not spring from nothing or because sustainability has become a buzzword in the construction industry too. Because with or without carbon emission reductions, “people don’t want something ugly”, as Claus Juul Nielsen puts it himself when explaining the popularity of the recycled bricks. Instead, they want something that is elegant in both appearance and function.

“Denmark was built on bricks. It’s a historical product you can find in Roskilde Cathedral (Roskilde Domkirke), the Old Stock Exchange (Børsen) and the Round Tower (Rundetårn). They are an important element of our construction history. So their popularity is not only due to the fact that you can save an awful lot of CO2 by recycling bricks – they are also beautiful and have soul and plenty of excellent properties.”

Application process and Nomination Committee

A number of organisations, architects, users, consultants, manufacturers, distributors, developers and inventors have nominated candidates for the Building Component Award 2021.

The Nomination Committee assesses the nominated candidates based on a number of established criteria.

Nomination Committee:

  • Bjarne Graabæk Thomsen, former Group CEO, Chair of the Nomination Committee
  • Ellen Kathrine Hansen, Associate Professor, PhD, Aalborg University at Campus Copenhagen
  • Kurt Bering Sørensen, CEO, Bering Board, former CEO
  • Frank Jensen, CEO, Søren Jensen Rådgivende Ingeniørfirma
  • Jacob Steen Møller, Director of Facilities, DTU
  • Mette Tony, architect MAA, Construction Economist MDB, partner, Praksis Arkitekter

 

About the Building Component Award

The Building Component Award is granted by VILLUM FONDEN and VELUX FONDEN. The award is granted to one or more persons who have made an outstanding contribution to the value, importance and practical application of building components in day-to-day life.

The award is granted every second year and is of DKK 100,000.

The founder of the foundations, Villum Kann Rasmussen, started his own business in 1941 and worked intensively with building components for the rest of his life. His best known building component is the VELUX skylight.

The award was granted for the first time in its current form in 2015 to entrepreneur, architect and designer Claus Dyre for his invention and commercialisation of the line drain Unidrain.

From road fill material to building success with social profile

To turn the old bricks, which are otherwise crushed and used as road fill material, into a sought-after product, we have to go back to the cold warehouse facility in Svendborg, where what is today called Gamle Mursten was started up

“When I took over the business, I was standing in this cold, former combustion unit surrounded by piles of bricks – the whole thing had nearly ended up on the scrap heap. There was nothing for it but to start cleaning bricks, for I had bought myself a factory and was the only employee. I put the cleaned bricks on pallets, and sometimes I managed to sell a few. But the prospects of creating a market with a product that, with a little thought and care, will still be standing centuries from now kept it all going,” says Claus Juul Nielsen. 

An order for 40,000 bricks from Ejendomsselskabet Olav de Linde boosted the project and made it possible to expand the staff, with 50% coming from the intermediate labour market. Since then, more employees and production halls have been added, and the production equipment has been extended with, for example, robotics to stack the cleaned bricks. And the company’s original location has been replaced with a newly built production hall and a small office building with bricks from Thorskilde Dairy built in 1932 on Tåsinge. But the heart of the business remains the same.

We’re a modern brickworks without a furnace, and we’re the only company in the EU that has had its own standard created for recycled material. It will be the company’s catalyst for the coming years and our prospective growth.

About the dedicated work that has made Gamle Mursten a sustainable and thriving company, Bjarne Graabæk Thomsen, Chair of the Nomination Committee for the Building Component Award, says the following:  

“Claus Juul Nielsen has cultivated unique expert knowledge about a specific building component and has managed to establish a new supply chain that makes it possible to reuse bricks on a large scale. Claus Juul Nielsen’s entrepreneurial work is exemplary and has only been possible through persistence and sympathetic understanding of the importance and practical application of building components in day-to-day life. 

Claus Juul Nielsen with chair of VELUX FONDEN Lykke Ogstrup Lunde and chair of VILLUM FONDEN Jens Kann-Rasmussen. 

Contact:

 

Ellen Kathrine Hansen, member of the Nomination Committee: ekh@create.aau.dk / 2172 3181

 

 

Emil Kaas Rasmussen
Communications Adviser, THE VELUX FOUNDATIONS
Phone: 
+45 29 66 67 32