Four-dimensional design: from strategies to cases - generation of fractal grammar for reusing building elements

Wim Debacker, Caroline Henrotay, Anne Paduart, Stijn Elsen, Willy De Wilde, Hendrik Hendrickx, E. Tiezzi (Editor), S.e. Jorgensen (Editor), C.a. Brebbia (Editor), T. Chon (Editor), B. Patten (Editor)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Because of its scale and the role it plays in our lives, a healthy built environment is of vital importance. As a part of material culture, buildings have to support human needs. But because of their static nature, obtained through design, most contemporary buildings and their components have a negative impact on their surroundings. The huge quantities of waste produced during demolition and the still rising emission of greenhouse gases created during use of the building, manufacture and waste treatment of its components are environmental indicators of an inefficient and unhealthy design.

Moreover, a socio-economic paradox has been created. Due to inadequate design many buildings are unable to adapt to (fast changing) contemporary requirements. As a result many constructions are left to their fate and decay. This inefficient use of matter and space is in sharp contrast with a global need for affordable housing. In high density countries, such as Belgium, building plots are scarce and expensive. In addition to this, UN Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) estimates that 600 million urban residents and 1 billion rural dwellers in developing countries live in inadequate housing.

In this paper three main methods which integrate the fourth dimension, i.e. time, into design are described: design for adaptability (construction reuse), design for deconstruction (component reuse) and design for dismantling (material reuse). With these 4Dimensional design strategies a healthy built environment is striven for, by taking into account, as from the first sketches, the wear and tear of artefacts and the changing and evolving circumstances which will affect them. The design by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) of several construction kits shows that the designer must pay attention to detailing. The key detailing principles and two design cases are further examined in this paper.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)258-277
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Ecodynamics
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2007

Bibliographical note

E. Tiezzi, S.E. Jorgensen, C.A. Brebbia, T. Chon, B. Patten


  • conservation of resources
  • deconstruction
  • adaptability
  • reuse of building elements
  • fractal geometry
  • detailing principles
  • design cases


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