Gabrielle Kawa

Gabrielle Kawa

Ir. arch. Gabrielle Kawa is a PhD researcher at the VUB Architectural Engineering. She obtained her master's of science degree in architectural engineering in the Bruface program (ULB-VUB) in 2021. In her master thesis 'Design for Re-use guide: Reclaimed wood and brick in façade architecture', Gabrielle illustrates the design process of four (inter)national pioneering projects, and comes with practical insights for reuse integration in the design process. Today, she continues her research on the topic of 'Reimagining vacancy. Circular design guidelines for a responsible redevelopment of vacant buildings', under the supervision of prof. dr. ir. arch. Waldo Galle and prof. dr. ir. arch. Niels De Temmerman. 


PhD research

Reimagining vacancy. Circular design guidelines for a responsible redevelopment of vacant buildings.

Date2021 - ...
SupervisorsWaldo Galle and Niels De Temmerman

When walking through a city’s streets, one might be confronted with buildings that seem to be forgotten: broken windows, wooden panelling and graffiti, but no sign of life. Although abandoned buildings are not new, vacancy presents a complex and persistent challenge for our real estate sector and society. For the twelfth year in a row the amount of vacant buildings in Belgium has increased to a historically high level of 11.2% and contrasts with our policy makers’ ambition to increase spatial efficiency. Nevertheless, a circular construction economy holds the opportunity to tackle vacancy and make the sector shift to a climate and resource-responsible one.

By extending the service life of vacant buildings and redeveloping them in a transformable way or recovering their components, material loops can be closed. After all, vacant buildings’ service life has not ended. They only reached an interim phase and await their next use. Taking a long-term perspective, using vacant buildings in a circular way can have a lasting positive impact on the users and the environment. Taking a short-term perspective, materials can be ‘mined’ and reused in an efficient way. Practically, vacant buildings could become their own ‘material consolidation hub’ or remanufacturing facility as part of an temporary occupation.

Current redevelopment practices, including the temporary reuse of vacant buildings, take a fragmented approach. Even the niche practices that adopt circular principles during temporary occupation do not succeed in transferring their added value to the eventual redevelopment project. To unlock those niches’ potential, this research aims to create practical insight on how to reimagine and redevelop vacant non-residential property. These insights will then be translated into design instruments that guide governments, clients and designer in making better-informed choices, and illustrate those by various case studies.

Master’s thesis

Waste to façade architecture - Design for Re-use guide: Reclaimed wood and brick in façade architecture

Date2020 - 2021
SupervisorsNiels De Temmerman and Charlotte Cambier

Today excessing construction industry leading to exhaustion of raw materials and large-scale waste production results in environmental and societal problems. In response, there is a growing interest among local authorities and policy makers to accelerate the transition towards a circular economy and built environment with closed material loops. This transition could be achieved through extending the service life of building materials by investing in reuse. Many disposed materials, such as wood and brick, present reuse and repurpose potential for building projects. Today such reuse is still an uncommon practice.

This masters thesis aims to identify and explore the design processes followed for the reuse of wooden cladding and bricks in façade architecture to, both, showcase the reuse possibilities of reclaimed materials in façade architecture, and to gather and promote knowledge about the design process that enables and supports reuse. As the outcome of the interviews with the designers of four exemplary projects, the mapping of the design processes followed for the integration of reclaimed building materials in architecture and the comparison of the resulting design schemes to each other and to existing guides, a comprehensive ‘design for re-use’ guide is proposed, highlighting the crucial moments and steps for material reuse in different design phases. In addition, recommendation sheets have been created for reuse and repurpose of wood and bricks in façade architecture. These tools promote knowledge and encourage designers to consider more circular design solutions.