Circular Retrofit Lab

Repurposing of student accommodation using sustainable materials and green techniques

The Circular Retrofit Lab was launched in 2017 as a pilot project within the BAMB (Buildings as Material Banks) research project. The focus was on technical aspects of circular and change-oriented (re)construction: repurposing instead of demolishing, scenario planning and dismountable building systems.

During that first trajectory, a valuable network of industrial partners emerged. There was a great multiplication potential to extend the circular renovation approach to the transformation of some 300 identical student modules on the VUB campus.

With the Open Call project, we were able to give continuity to this initiative. It was the reason to broaden the focus with our market partners to other, systemic aspects that contribute to the transition to circular building: business models, digitalisation, legal and logistical aspects.

In a learning trajectory of three workshops, we brought in new expertise, sought opportunities in our participants' value propositions and debated how to organise transition and innovation in your own company. We developed a Value Network Canvas to map out value networks and draw circular alternatives. We also tested different concepts around BIM and FIS as a carrier for material passports and formulated proposals for further research.

Thanks to the Open Call, we were also able to further disseminate the lessons learned from the Retrofit Lab.

The Lab's objective has been more than successful: to become a platform to bring the results of academic research closer to the market.


  1. By bringing together industrial partners around the Circular Retrofit Lab for 3 years, beautiful symbioses between start-ups and large companies emerged during the course of the project.
  2. We developed a Value Network Canvas to create insight in the value network of companies, test new circular business models and find opportunities for new collaborations. 
  3. The Lab has more than fulfilled its role as a showcase for circular building. We gave many tours and presentations to share the lessons learned from our project. With professionals, students and the general public.
  4. To strengthen communication about the Lab, we set up a project website. There, we describe the circular renovation strategies that have been applied and you will also find news about future initiatives.


  1. Onboarding remains very labour-intensive. However, bringing partners together in a long-term process creates trust and - in the long run - interesting collaborations.
  2. Because there are currently many initiatives around circularity, it is becoming increasingly important to coordinate them. For the theme business models, we regularly consulted with the Circulaire Kempen project. We are now doing the same with projects on 'circular' joinery.
  3. Pilot projects make the concept of circular building tangible for the general public. They bring out the various dimensions of the circular challenge, give market players the chance to experiment without risk and lead to new partnerships between chain partners.
  4. Poor data efficiency remains a major obstacle in construction. It is an important opportunity for improvement. Within the framework of the circular economy, BIM has its limitations as a carrier for material data or building passports. A transactional approach, for example through the use of a blockchain, in combination with standardised data set formats such as EPD, has clear potential.
30 presentations and tours
24 times in the press (TV, trade journals, etc.)


The Lab will be further expanded as an experimentation site for circular concepts. We continue to learn by doing, together with market partners.

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