CEO of Gamle Mursten, Claus Juul Nielsen, has received the VILLUM FOUNDATION and VELUX FOUNDATION 2021 Building Component Awardfor his work in bringing new life to one of the world’s oldest building components.
The Foundation’s press release reads:
About the Building Component Award
The Building Component Award is presented by the VILLUM FOUNDATION and VELUX FOUNDATION. The award is given to one or more individuals who have made a special contribution to the value, significance and practical use of industrially manufactured building components in everyday life.
The award is given every two years and the prize is DKK 100,000.
Villum Kann Rasmussen, the founder of the foundations, started his own company in 1941 and spent the rest of his life working intensively with building components. His best-known building component is the VELUX skylight.
The award was given for the first time in its current form in 2015 to entrepreneur, architect and designer Claus Dyre for his invention and commercialisation of the Unidrain line drain. In 2017, the award was given to Peer Leth for his efforts in the development and refinement of wood-based acoustic panels at the company Troldtekt. And in 2019, Lauritz Rasmussen received the Building Components Award for his persistent efforts to promote the use of prefabricated and industrialised wood elements in construction.
In 2003, Claus Juul Nielsen’s working life went from being filled with work trips to the United States and Asia to a vibrating plaster machine in an icy warehouse surrounded by silos, abandoned equipment and around 30,000 bricks in storage. Claus Juul Nielsen took over the machinery and bricks from a previous project that had tried to build a business by making bricks recyclable using a special vibration technique. And the orders weren’t queuing up when Claus Juul Nielsen took over the project. However, a lot has happened from that modest start to today.
Precursor to circular economy with CE approval
The then abandoned equipment is now working on a large scale, the order book is full for a long time ahead, and the company named Gamle Mursten is the only one in the EU to supply CE-approved recycled bricks for new construction projects. It’s sustainable, soulful and economical.
However, the company, which has been named a Gazelle company three times, didn’t come into being by itself, or because sustainability is also at the heart of the construction industry. Because with or without CO2 savings, “people don’t want something that’s ugly”, as Claus Juul Nielsen puts it when he has to talk about the popularity of recycled bricks. In return, they want something that is elegant in both appearance and function.
– Denmark is built on bricks. It is a historical product that you can find in Roskilde Cathedral, Børsen stock exchange and the Round Tower. They are an important element in our building history. So, the popularity is not just because a huge amount of CO2 can be saved by recycling bricks – they’re also beautiful and have soul and a lot of good qualities.
From road filling to construction success with a social profile
And to turn the old bricks, which are otherwise crushed and used as road filling, into a sought-after product, we have to go back to the cold warehouse in Svendborg, where what is now called Gamle Mursten (Old Bricks) started.
“When I took over, I was standing in this cold former incinerator surrounded by piles of bricks – everything had all but ended up in the iron box. And then there was nothing for it but to start cleaning bricks, because now I had bought a factory and was the only employee. I put the cleaned bricks on pallets, and once in a while I managed to sell some. But the prospect of creating a market with a product that, with a little care and attention, will still be around in centuries’ time, kept things going,” says Claus Juul Nielsen.
An order from property company Olav de Linde for 40,000 bricks boosted the project and enabled the expansion of the workforce, 50% of whom come from the inclusive labour market. Since then, more employees and production halls have been added, and the production equipment has been expanded, including robotic technology for stacking 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 the island of Tåsinge. But the heart of the company remains the same.
“We’re a modern brickworks without a kiln, and we’re the only company in the EU to have created its own standard for recycled materials. It will be the company’s catalyst for the coming years and the growth we are looking at.
About the dedicated work that has made Gamle Mursten a sustainable company in rapid development,” says chairman of the Building Components Award nomination committee, Bjarne Graabæk Thomsen:
“Claus Juul Nielsen has cultivated a unique expertise on a specific building component and managed to establish a new supply chain that makes it possible to recycle bricks on a large scale. Claus’ entrepreneurial efforts are exemplary and only possible through perseverance and a deep understanding of the importance and practical use of building components in everyday life.”
The whole team at Gamle Mursten is of course incredibly proud!
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