Words by Zagreb Pilot

Circular economy of Sljeme meat factory in Sesvete: A NEW LIFE OF AN OLD GIANT?


Faculty of Architecture, University of Zagreb 

October 2022 


Circular Economy 

Modern times in most of the world assume market economy driven growth, with economic aspect as a fundamental indicator of success and generator of growth. Although market self-regulation works to some extent, without financial accounting for the long term effects as well as social and ecological damage it turns out to be a mit, especially in the long run. So we tend to produce more, products that tend to be more sophisticated but cheaper, are intended to last less, and are harder to recycle. All efforts to artificially regulate this, together with market self-regulation, to date did not bear some significant result. 


Figure 1. Global socioeconomic flows of fossil materials, biomass, metals and (non-metalic minerals) through the global economy 

Source: Spaceship earth’s odyssey to a circular economy – a century long perspective, Will Haas, Fridolin Krausmann, Dominik Wiedenhofer, Christian Lauk, Andreas Mayer


Circular Economy suggest several levels of processes that keeps the product, parts of it or raw material in use as long as possible, before directed to energy recovery and landfill. In terms of buildings we recognize MAINTENANCE (usual repairs), REUSE (changing function), REFURBISHMENT (big structural changes) and RECYCLE (deconstruction to raw materials for reuse). Lower level of circular management means lower ecological impact as well as lower cost. In terms of Sljeme factory, as original meat production function is not available, circular economy starts from reuse. 

Figure 2. Circular Economy Biological and Technological Cycles 


Draft proposal of the “Program for the development of circular management of spaces and buildings for the period 2021 to 2030” by MINISTRY OF CONSTRUCTION AND PHYSICAL PLANNING recognizes Sljeme as mono-functional zone of abandoned spaces and buildings (scale L) – unit of one industrial function with clearly defined boundaries. Its large number of buildings of different spatial characteristics (construction, materials, spans, envelope, infrastructural equipment) represent a challenge for the implementation of the principles of circular management of spaces and buildings. The advantages of this site are: basic infrastructure equipment (traffic, electricity, water and drainage), flexibility of space and a large area, it can easily accommodate simple production purposes, technology parks, research centers (startups / incubators) for a larger number of users, business campuses and similar.  

Figure 3. Circular Economy principles in buildings within the complete renovation framework of the historical urban complex in the City of Zagreb  

Source: erši?, Zoran; Pelivan, Lea; Ostoji?, Stanka // 1st Croatian Conference on Earthquake Engineering, Special Session – Block 19: Urban Renovation Wave Triggered by Earthquake. Zagreb, Croatia, 2021.  


Sljeme Factory – history and plans 

Sljeme was a “product” that lasted a significantly long time. Founded in 1871. as a small meat shop in Zagreb named “Rabus”, relocated to Sesvete in 1921. as a meat factory “Katarina Rabus and son”, restructured into the Food Industrial Complex “Sljeme” in 1946. by the Croatian government. Soon it became one of the most important meat industries in the Balkans. What was built in more than 120 years took less than 12 to be destroyed; ending of the “meat giant” started in the mid 90’s, in the Croatian transition process from socialist system to the market economy. Irregular privatization and poor management, saturated with private interests and corruption finally led to bankruptcy in 2006. So, the “product has expired”, and now the circular economy steps in to sustainably manage the remaining potential. And maybe open some new doors for alternative future scenarios. 

Figure 4. Sljeme circular economy  1921 – 1946 – 1988 – 2001

Project of mapping and valorization of construction at the location of Sljeme, Sesvete made in 2017., states that only one building of the former meat factory complex is suitable for reuse, management building. Canning building as well as 6 siloses are possible for refurbishment level, and the rest of buildings have to go through recycling process. Scheme shows resource and its quantity, circular economy level as well as proces / result stakeholder.  

Figure 5. Sljeme Buildings for Reuse, Refurbish or Recycle Circular Material flow  

Figure 6. Sljeme Circular Material flow 

Concrete circular economy options in the Sljeme factory show prices for each level,  as well as the result location. As the future function of the former factory space is innovation hub, 4th scenario is open for alternative and innovative use of the raw materials with potential higher value for the recycled resource. Examples are Croatian designer’s innovation, Hi-fi speakers made from concrete. 


Figure 7. Material flows for concrete, value comparisson 

Brownfield locations in Zagreb 

The process of urbanization was accompanied by the abandonment of historical industrial, infrastructural and similar localities that were initially built on the edge of the city, but over time became an integral part of the urbanized area. Brownfield locations include former industrial buildings and land, military buildings and land, traffic buildings and infrastructure, residential buildings and land, social and public buildings and land, and land and buildings of agricultural and mining complexes. To this can be added buildings and complexes that were never completed and used, such as the University Hospital in Zagreb. A total of 84 brownfield locations were recorded in the area of ??the Zagreb Urban Agglomeration, the total area of ??which is 529.24 ha.

Figure 8. Recorded Brownfield locations in the Zagreb urban agglomeration 

This story Illustrates Circular economy potential of Sljeme factory, but also related to future innovation capacities of the area. Methodologies that emerge from CENTRINNO project can serve as valuable insights for future activities in Sljeme, especially experiences from different cities.  



  1. Project of mapping and valorization of construction at the location of Sljeme, Sesvete 

Prof. MArt Mladen Joši? 

Prof. PhD Bojan Baleti? 

Institute of Architectural Design, Faculty of Architecture 

University of Zagreb, April 2017. 


  1. Program for the development of circular management of spaces and buildings for the period 2021 to 2030 


Zagreb, May 2020. 


  1. Removal of buildings in the area of ??the Sljeme, Sesvete meat industry 
  • Demolition of Buildings and Environmental Protection  

EURCO d.d. for construction, engineering and environmental protection 

Zagreb, May 2017. 



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