The Circular Retrofit Lab (CRL) is an experimental refurbishment project on the VUB-campus in Brussels, Belgium. It takes 8 existing student housing units and a second life

It is a testlab and demonstrator for circular design strategies and prototypes.

Circular innovation strategies.

In its current configuration it houses exhibition and office spaces, and is the result of a very close collaboration between researchers of VUB Architectural Engineering and industrial partners

Working in this testlab is a team of researchers from VUB Architectural Engineering and a consortium of industrial partners. Taking a step-by-step innovation approach towards a circular economy.

Circular Retrofit Lab, dat acht modules van de voormalige studentenkoten een tweede leven geeft als een uniek demonstratielabo voor ‘circulair bouwen’. Samen met studenten en koplopers uit de bouwindustrie vonden er experimenten plaats met prototypes van onder meer aanpasbare binnenwanden, technische installaties en preassemblage van gevelsystemen.

By a team of researchers and industrial partners converting into

Adaptive reuse.

Size: 200m2

Architect: Kaderstudio

Location: VUB Campus, Brussels, Belgium

Monday, may 13th

Patrick McNeil

Barry Clark

Friday, 05

Patrick McNeil

Stephan Wink

two days in London

A Brussels’ experiment on the circular renovation of buildings.


It's an uncommon gathering for those who understand and want to learn more about.

The speakers

Tobias van Schneider
Independent Designer

Mathias Høst Normark
Art Director & Designer



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Initially conceived by architect Willy Van Der Meeren as a temporary solution, the prefabricated concrete modules were installed, on the campus in the 70’s to cope with the increasing demand for student housing on site. The flexibility of this modular system developed in Switzerland allowed a random layout and generated a sequence of qualitative green urban spaces.

Since the ageing student housing no longer met current insulation and ventilation requirements, their complete demolition had been considered by the university. However, a case was made to keep part of these units for their architectural specificity and to prevent them turning into waste. The renovation of the modules should maintain the urban identity of the site while including flexibility for future transformations. This ambition has driven the retrofitting strategy of the Circular Retrofit Lab.

After the first renovation phase, the Circular Retrofit Lab will host a dissemination space focussing on circularity and a flexible workspace. Subsequently, the building will be transformed into an eco guest-house for visiting academics.


The pilot project explores in depth the reuse potential and the transformation capacity of an existing building at different levels: building, space, constructive systems and components.

The design process started with a preliminary study. The team identified and studied future potential development scenarios. This research by design process increased the flexibility and the adaptability of the final plan lay-out and its capacity to accommodate future functional transformations, with little waste (Figure 41 & Figure 48).

Two transformation strategies were selected and developed within the project: an internal and an external transformation (Figure 49).

The internal strategy detailed in the prototyping report (D13) aimed to develop and implement circular partition systems related to their expected change rate (Figure 56 on page 69). A series of existing products were tested and upgraded to become circular.

The development of the external transformable solution for the facade encountered major challenges. The integration of the current building standards and the respect of the heritage value of the site had to be taken into consideration. A mock-up was realised before building the actual facade.