circular retrofit lab VUB - bAMB 2020

In both renovation and new-build projects, we need to keep in mind that the building is not a static entity that remains forever unchanged. On the contrary, it is a dynamic environment that will continue to evolve as it is influenced by the changing needs of its users as well as new technical developments. In a residential building, for example, the residents will get older or the family composition might change. This requires some specific adjustments to the rooms and entrances. In a non-residential building, for example, this might involve a change in its function. Therefore, at the start of the project we need to not only meet the needs of the current user, but also develop a long-term strategy with some scenarios for the future use of the building. We call this change-oriented design or ‘design for change’.

Meaning and importance

We cannot of course design for every possible future scenario, but by making some smart design choices we can significantly increase the potential adaptability of the building. The greater the potential to later change the layout or function of the building, the greater the chance that the building can remain in use for a long time without major work. This is how we create value retention at the highest level.

Future-oriented plan and dimensions

A first strategy is a future-oriented plan with smart dimensions. For example, a simple and uniform supporting structure, based on a fixed grid, with sufficiently large spans and enough free height between the floors. This kind of supporting structure enables the building to be used in more ways. We can also incorporate measures with a view to the ability to extend. For example, we can provide technical shafts and rooms with sufficient margin, or oversize certain load-bearing elements in order to be able to add extra floors later on.

Built-in flexibility of use

A second strategy is to build in enough flexibility of use, especially with a view to a changing layout. To make this possible, we need to consider easily movable interior walls (or interior furnishings), sufficient and well-positioned vertical access options and technical shafts and entrances. In addition, the facade design must allow for changes in layout, and we need to consider the accessibility of underlying building components when finishing the interior.

Adaptable technical installations

A final strategy is the design of technical installations that are sufficiently adaptable. Technical installations are closely related to the layout and functions of the spaces within a building. When the layout or function of a building changes, we should ideally also be able to adapt the technical installations accordingly. We can increase this adaptability by already preparing the technical installation for multifunctional use (e.g. zoning, demand-driven, extendable, oversized) and giving enough consideration to accessibility (for maintenance, repairs, upgrades, extensions) and compatibility.

logo tool circulair gebouwd

How was this included in the tool Circular Built?

To make your change-oriented design ambitions concrete and be able to evaluate them within a project, the Circular Built tool provides you with a list of possible requirements. From this list you can select the requirements you want to include in your project. This list is largely based on the TOE1 checklist in GRO, but grouped into 3 different strategies:

  1. Future-oriented plan and dimensions
  2. Built-in flexibility of use
  3. Adaptable technical installations

In addition, the TOE1 checklist is a list of criteria that each have the same number of points, meaning they are all of equal importance. In the Circular Built tool, however, for each strategy a distinction is made between ‘must haves’ and ‘extras’ in order to better prioritise. The ‘must haves’ are essential for maximising the lifespan of the building and are therefore always important, regardless of the context or the initially planned function of the building. If you have bigger circular ambitions and want to integrate even more transformation and adaptation options, you can also include some of the ‘extras’. These are not equally applicable to each project, and depend on the type of building, the context and the future vision for the building.


How can you measure this?

As this topic is about design guidelines, it is very difficult to measure it objectively. That is why measurement is currently done in a qualitative way using questionnaires that assess the extent to which the design choices meet the principles of ‘design for change’. In addition to the checklist in the Circular Built tool, below you will also find some other examples of checklists or questionnaires:

The list used in the Circular Built tool largely corresponds to the checklists above. Some lists are more specific, or have a different structure or focus, but there are a lot of similarities.

Real-life examples

De binnenkant van het voorbeeldproject - Living Lab van KULeuven
Living Lab Emergis de ingang

Which tools can help us here?