Purpose: While circular economy (CE) is fast becoming a political and economic agenda for global urban development, there are still substantial knowledge gaps in possible strategies to speed up such transition, especially in the construction industry. This study analyses literature surrounding CE to unpack current trends possible future research directions to foster CE implementation in the construction industry. Design/methodology/approach: The study undertakes a systematic review of CE literature published between 1990 and 2019. It adopts a five-stage procedure as a methodological approach for the review: formulation of the research question(s), locating and identifying relevant studies, selection and evaluation of studies, analysis or synthesis and results reporting. Findings: The findings on CE research in the construction industry show extensive focus on resource use and waste management. There are limited investigations in other areas of construction such as supply chain integration, building designs, policy, energy efficiency, land use, offsite manufacturing, whole life costing, and risk, cost reduction, cost management, health and safety management. The study findings provide evidence that current CE practice fails to incorporate other areas that would facilitate the network of true circular construction industry. Originality/value: This research provides a comprehensive overview of research efforts on CE in the construction context, identifying areas of extensive and limited coverage over three decades. Besides, it identifies possible pathways for future research directions on CE implementation, towards the accelerated transition to a true circular construction industry for the benefit of funding bodies and researchers.