Brussels Retrofit XL

Opbouw studentenkoten VUB

The research lab for architectural engineering at VUB starts a research project in 2013 on the understanding, conservation and dynamic reuse of post-war housing in Brussels. An interdisciplinary team of supervisors Inge Bertels, Filip Descamps, Niels De Temmerman, Ann Verdonck and Ine Wouters will work together with two post-doc researchers Anne Paduart and Stephanie Van de Voorde. The research project is part of the strategic platform ‘Brussels Retrofit XL’, which is granted by the Brussels Institute for Research and Innovation (Innoviris).

The research project focusses on different levels of the retrofit process.

One of the goals of this research is to offer criteria for evaluating the heritage value of post-war single housing units, complexes, and ensembles in the Brussels region, in order to identify levels of interventions that would be appropriate for them, according to their ranking.

The post-war buildings are special in the amount of novel materials and assemblies they contain, as well as their architectural intent. As constructing affordable housing at high speed was high on the agenda during the post-war era, numerous innovations were made in the field of construction. Documenting these innovations, which relate to new building materials (see projects > buildingmanual), and standardisation of products and processes, is not only important for the assessment of the historical value, but vital to assess the retrofitting capacity. Moreover, unlike architecture of the 19th century and before, the intent of Modern Movement buildings was less permanent, their materials less precious. Thus, the standards for retrofitting even the most high-value may differ from those applying to more traditional buildings.

A second reason to focus on the post-war period is the possible applicability of new retrofit strategies that deal with the future need of buildings to change. During upgrade of the post-war housing estate in Brussels today, it is essential to introduce dynamic retrofit approaches where convenient, in order to anticipate changes during the future building life cycle (including e.g. functional alterations, building upgrade and the end-of-life stage) while minimising the material consumption and waste production in the long run. This involves retrofit strategies that maximise the reuse of building elements, while incorporating principles that augment the ease of disassembly of building elements at any moment. Since post-war designers developed the concept of modular, prefabricated units and standardised building elements, post-war dwellings may be suitable to be retrofitted according to approaches that rely on dismantling, re-using or upgrading of separate building elements. Given that the ability to dismantle building elements during retrofitting today depends on the original construction details and connections, insights into the construction and building technology (load-bearing structure, floor and wall composition) of the Brussels post-war dwellings is necessary in order to develop appropriate interventions. In addition, new features need to be incorporated today during the retrofitting in order to ensure that the building upgrade complies with contemporary standards, while optimising the reuse and recycling potential of building materials in the future.