Ellen Leemans

Ellen Leemans

Ir. arch. Ellen Leemans is a PhD researcher at VUB Architectural Engineering. In 2022 she graduated as Master of Science in Architectural Engineering at Bruface (VUB/ULB). In her master thesis 'Designing and prototyping a lightweight modular outdoor structure', she created an optimized primary structure serving as the backbone of a secondary cladding system through modularisation and prefabrication. Today she continues this research under the supervision of Lars De Laet and Niels De Temmerman. This research is funded by the department of VUB Architectural Engineering.

PhD research

Reusable building systems: prototyping lightweight and modular temporary structures

Date2022 - 2027
SupervisorsLars De Laet and Niels De Temmerman
FundsResearch Foundation - Flanders (FWO)


In the event sector, structures are often left behind after use, ready to be thrown away. This leads to
increased waste and CO2 emissions. However, if 75% of structures were reusable, waste production would be up to 3.5 times lower.                                                                                                                           
By designing these temporary structures to be lightweight, modular and reconfigurable, they are
more efficient for short-term use and reuse. However, current solutions are difficult to assemble or
lack variation to achieve different configurations. When multiple configurations are possible, they
usually consist only of beams and do not include walls or provide coverage.                                                                                                                                                                                            
Therefore, this research will focus on investigating a lightweight plate-based building system for
temporary, reconfigurable and structural applications. First, a geometrical system will be investigated that can later be translated into a plate-based system. Here, materials and connections are crucial. Finally, all results will be combined in a prototype to show the feasibility of the system.                                                                                                                                              
This research will not only produce a prototype, but also a guide to the operation of this innovative
building system that will allow optimal use and reuse. In addition, the results of the geometrical
study and the development of a slab system and computational methods will be valuable in both the event and construction industries for future innovations.

Master’s thesis

Designing and prototyping a lightweight modular outdoor structure

Date2021 - 2022
SupervisorsLars De Laet and Niels De Temmerman


This research aims to take a step towards increasing the productivity of the construction sector through digitalization of the earliest processes in the sector. Apart from this, it intends to increase the material efficiency in these first stages through intelligent design in order to reduce the production of waste later on. This can be partially obtained through prefabrication and modularization of structures. Although existing examples are often easy to fabricate, their production process still needs optimization in terms of material efficiency and their assembly phase is usually challenging. Therefore during this research a lightweight modular outdoor structure will be designed and prototyped to see how these concepts can be tackled in a small scale application.

This is achieved by first analysing and evaluating existing modular structures and applying the insights and constraints gained from this research to the development of new principles and the creation of an optimized lightweight modular outdoor structure. These principles and the structure are developed through a hands-on-approach, as this helped to easily evaluate the choices that were made along the process.

This method led to the development of a typology for a cladding system that could be applied to structures with various morphologies. A structure used to test this system is the ReciPlyDome, which itself also received the requested optimalization in terms of assembly. After making these improvements, the typology of the cladding system was adapted to suit as the ideal cover for the dome.

This research resulted in the creation of an optimized primary structure serving as the backbone of a secondary cladding system. Thus proving that a material efficient design of a prefabricated modular structure is possible on a small scale application, as the structure is fully executed in scale models and partially in a 1:1 scale prototype, bringing us closer to the demanded digitalisation and thus increased productivity of the construction sector. In future research, the developed primary and secondary structure should be combined and tested in a full scale prototype. Apart from this, the cladding system could be tested on other structural typologies.