Understanding the design process and the impact of reversible design tools and strategies through timeline development

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference paper


As knowledge on circular and transformable construction grows, so does the interest of architects in being supported and encouraged in designing buildings that yield closed material loops and have lower environmental impact. Applying design support tools can be one way to connect theoretical knowledge to practice. However, the range of design tools on offer is very large and still growing rapidly, which makes architects wonder: "when should I use which tool, and wherefore?" To answer these questions, one must first understand how the design process works. How are decisions made? And, who and what influences them? Therefore, this research does decipher the decisions and influencing factors of a design process to find out when a circularity design support tool would have the greatest impact.

In this research we focused on the design processes of three post-war high-rise renovations. The renovation of postwar high-rise buildings in an important task in the Belgian construction sector today. Through the review of design documents and subsequent observations and several interviews with the leading architects of each of the three projects information was obtained covering different design stages, mapping the discussed design alternatives, identifying the influencing actors in the design process, ... Simultaneously, the involved designers were interrogated about their intentions and insights. All interviewed architects indicated an interest in circular building design, but they were unable to effectively apply circular design strategies due to a variety of reasons.

To visually structure the design processes over time, and synthesize our observations, a timeline development method was set up. The development of a timeline according to this method provides a clear overview of the relations between the different decisions and influencing factors. It allows to visually find patterns and important moments in the design process, triggers reflexive discussions with the designers and fosters the identification of windows of opportunity. With this information obtained from the timelines, key design phases were indicated, archetypical for high-rise renovations. After a comparative review these phases show at which moment a certain design tool could have had a significant impact. The potential of these tools, applied to these phases, was then illustrated through alternative designs of the case studies that act as a proof of concept.

In conclusion, this research could demonstrate that through participatory action research and the structured monitoring of practical design choices, architects, researchers and developers can gain insight about at which stage of the design they can apply which tool. Consequently, the concept of 'circular building' can play a concrete role in building designs.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the IBA Crossing Boundaries conference
Place of PublicationHeerlen
PublisherZuyd University of Applied Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2021


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