Paulien Beeckman

Paulien Beeckman

Paulien Beeckman is a PhD researcher at VUB Architectural Engineering. She obtained her master's degree in Architecural Engineering in 2022 within the Bruface program (VUB-ULB). Her research, under the supervision of prof. dr. ir. arch. Waldo Galle and prof. dr. ir. arch. Niels De Temmerman, focuses on the reconversion of offices to housing and how the use of circular strategies could make these projects more affordable.


PhD research

The repurposing of our built environment: Circular reconversion of office buildings to housing

Date2023 - 2027
SupervisorsWaldo Galle and Niels De Temmerman
FundsFonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek

Like other (Northern European) countries, Belgium experiences a significant shortage of social and affordable housing. To provide extra social housing, our cities will have a key role in the upcoming years. Often building extra housing is seen as a solution to the housing crisis. However, to ensure the quality of the neighbourhood it is important to preserve the existing open space. 

In the past decennia, a trend of reconversion projects has emerged. Vacant office buildings are being reconverted to housing in large numbers. This trend will only grow post-covid. Past research has shown that the realization of such projects causes high construction costs and high production of waste. 
Circular design strategies cannot only avoid building waste now as in the future. Through choices that enhance the maintenance and future alterations, circularity could make the reconversion more affordable in the long run. Yet, the implementation of circular design choices is slowed down by the lack of knowledge about the exact contribution of these choices to the affordability of the project. 

This research proposal will create concrete insight into how circular design choices increases the affordability of reconversion projects and lead to more social housing. These insights will be translated into design instruments to guide governments, policy makers, clients, architects and general contractors in making better-informed choices, and illustrate those by various case studies. 

Master’s thesis

Circular reconversion of office buildings to social housing

Date2021 - 2022
SupervisorsWaldo Galle and Niels De Temmerman

At the moment Belgium is experiencing a large shortage of social housing. The Belgian social housing companies cannot keep up with the high demand. Therefore, alternatives to create more housing in a faster way need to be researched. Some of these alternatives are currently under investigation by different organisations and governments in Belgium but also in other countries such as the Netherlands. Further, there is a growing interest in circular design strategies by architects. Some of these strategies could be applied to reconversion projects and could lead to lower costs. This master thesis explores the potential of applying circular design qualities in reconversion projects of office buildings to social housing. The implementation of these qualities allows for the creation of qualitative housing. Some of these qualities could also help to reduce building costs and maintenance costs. This research explores different qualities and design strategies that could be applied to reconversion projects. Furthermore, a list of important parameters is provided along with possible solutions and interesting opportunities for circular reconversions of office buildings to social housing projects.

This research was conducted in two phases. The first phase focused on the analysis of different situations. The first situation was the large number of reconversion projects that have already been realised. Example projects were gathered and different parameters were analysed, e.g., their location, building characteristics and new functions. Furthermore, the needs of the social housing organizations were analysed. Four case studies were also investigated more in detail, a specific focus was paid to the design, and social and circular strategies. This then led to the creation of a guide in the form of leaflets. Each leaflet focuses on a different building layer as subdivided by Brand and illustrates the opportunities for circular and social strategies for each layer.

The main goal of this master thesis is to guide different actors involved with the reconversion of office buildings to social housing in the decision process and to inspire them to use circular strategies in their projects. The leaflets were created using the information from the different actors that were interviewed. As a preliminary validation, the results and the leaflets will also be sent back to some of the interviewees to test the impact on the decision process.