The circular retrofit lab: A hands-on experiment for the multi-disciplinary development of a building envelope according to circular design qualities

Onderzoeksoutput: Conference paper


The construction sector, identified as one of the largest producers and consumers of respectively waste and natural resources, has a detrimental impact on the environment. In recent years, its vast ecological footprint is recognised as a systemic challenge and made sustainable construction a top priority in both political and industrial actions. It led to the introduction of the concept of a circular construction economy, wherein the use of virgin resources and the production of waste is minimised by closing material flows. However, the implementation of circularity in the construction sector is a challenge as it requires radical changes at different levels, including organisational changes within the sector’s supply chain and the adoption of new design methods. This radicality has as a result that there are, until today, few pilot projects built wherein the necessary changes have been demonstrated. This situation urges us to accelerate and scale the transition towards a circular construction sector. One way to do so, is to start with those changes that can already be implemented.

Within the H2020-funded project Building As Material Banks (BAMB) the Circular Retrofit Lab (CRL) could be realised. This experimental pilot project concerns the refurbishment of eight out of about 350 student housing modules built in the sixties at the university campus of Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in Belgium (Figure 1). The lab aims to demonstrate what is already possible today and how circular building design creates opportunities for the existing building stock. This paper discusses the design process and outcome of the building envelope of the CRL. That envelope consists of a modular façade system of prefabricated panels (Figure 2). For what considers new additions, in order to be able to reclaim and reuse the applied materials in the future, 16 circular design qualities play a crucial role, e.g. reversible connections and durable materials. For what considers the existing structure, this case study demonstrates that, for example, the repetitive layout of the modules forms an important leverage to implement interchangeable façade panels.

The innovative, adaptable and reusable building solutions applied in the CRL have been developed in collaboration with various construction stakeholders and included, exceptionally in the design and construction process, also industrial partners. In this study of the design process and its outcome, we go deeper into the impact of the multi- disciplinary development approach on the resulting implementation of a circular building envelope. Based on structured process observations and a reflexive learning-history workshop, we can show how the involvement of various actors and unconventional circularity requirements increase the complexity of the project, but also how they positively impact the reactivation of existing buildings and proved to be a lasting learning opportunity to all partners involved. In conclusion, this case study demonstrates that multiple necessary changes at both technical level and process level can be applied with a concrete added value for multiple actors in the construction sector already today.
Originele taal-2English
TitelProceedings of the IBA Crossing Boundaries conference
Plaats van productieHeerlen
UitgeverijZuyd University of Applied Sciences
StatusPublished - 24 mrt 2021
EvenementCrossing Boundaries - Online
Duur: 24 mrt 202125 mrt 2021


ConferenceCrossing Boundaries
Verkorte titelCB2021
Internet adres


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