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  • Published on August 30, 2022

Developed by VUB, the pilot project tested and implemented different scenarios for the reuse and refurbishment of the VUB campus’ prefabricated student housing of the 70s, without generating a large amount of waste. Strategies have been explored for internal transformations, external transformations, and the module’s multiple functional reconfigurations. This case study looks at the use of modular, prefabricated and kit-of-parts design approach not only fostered flexibility in assembly and efficiency in manufacturing but allowed scaling up the implementation. In this respect, the CRL team together with the industry partners implemented efficient operational solutions, such as the use of dry connections, robust and reversible technical systems and the use of materials able to endure multiple reuses without being damaged. The aim is to: Test reversible building design aspects, replicability, through “research by design” and “process approach” perspective and, foster stakeholder involvement in order to identify business models. The CRL pilot project applied a step-by-step innovation strategy based on products available on the market. This strategy thus incrementally improves products that are already technically and commercially viable. Selected products, such as partition walls, had a high initial potential to reach circularity objectives. Together with the manufacturers, the team sought to add new product capabilities, such as new functionality (ex. from a prefabricated service module to a fully reversible partition wall system), reversible connections, etc. Depending on their expected rate of change in the floor plan, three different types of walls were defined, analysed, constructed and transformed: walls with (1) a high rate of change, (2) a high degree of flexibility for the integration of technical infrastructure and (3) a low rate of change. The university organised several round tables with industry stakeholders where design solutions were debated and improved, as well as hands-on workshops with students where solutions were tested. 

The circular refurbishment tested dismountable, adaptable and reusable solutions for maximizing waste reduction. The pilot developed a co-creative process all along the (re) design, (re) build, (re)use, repurpose or dismantling phases. This necessitated a close collaboration with all the value network stakeholders and future users in the early development phase. CRL is likely to serve as a circular renovation model for the other student housing modules located on the VUB campus. The team paid a special attention to the needs of potential users. In this respect, the project reflects on potential business models able to cope with the evolution of the users’ requirements, thus enhancing the reproducibility and perpetuity of a flexible model. Three main successes were:

1. The reversible wall solutions developed by CRL showcase the considerable waste reduction that can be achieved compared to the current building solutions.

2. The CRL highlights the benefits issued from several financial life cycles, inherent to circular models. The general contractor is currently trying to implement the idea of transformable buildings with adaptable features in the buildings he will be owning during the next 40 years.

3. The results of the CRL are integrated into the development of a future circular building assessment tool.

This case study is directly related to the work of the OPN SBC programme.

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