The sustainable transformation of Van Der Meeren’s student houses - A feasibility study

Waldo Galle, Mieke Vandenbroucke, Niels De Temmerman

Research Architectural Engineering (æ-LAB)

VUB funded, March 2014 - September 2014

TRANSFORM is currently assigned by the facility management of the university to do a feasibility study on a transformation of the 352 iconic student residences located at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels’ campus ‘Oefenplein’. The student houses were designed in 1973 by Belgian architect Willy Van Der Meeren based on an innovative modular construction system.

The initial master plan for new residential and educational facilities on campus ‘Oefenplein’ included demolishing all modules of the student residence. Although this would be an easy and straightforward way to deal with these outdated buildings, the university’s facility management is more than aware of the fact that Van Der Meeren’s student housing complex has considerable cultural and historical value, and that the demolition would generate a significant amount of waste.

As an alternative to the demolition, the transformation and reuse of the modular units is studied. In order to understand both the financial and the environmental effects, TRANSFORM conducts Life Cycle (Cost) Analyses of alternative transformation strategies. These analyses will compare different scenarios, in which the modules will be reused and possibly reconfigured. This is done at four different design levels, including:

    Site: negotiating a programme of mixed functions, including student services, offices and leisure space,
    Building: assessing different construction strategies from demolition to maximal preservation and reuse,
    Components: designing fixed and demountable wall, floor and roof assemblies,
    Time: developing life cycle scenarios evaluating the impact of future maintenance and adaptation.

The result of this study will be a thorough analysis on the short and long term feasibility of a transformation of Van Der Meeren’s student residences, providing financial and ecological data, strategic guidelines and illustrative design examples.

By means of this feasibility study, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel has offered TRANSFORM a unique opportunity to apply its expertise on an iconic housing project. TRANSFORM’s holistic advice will take into account multiple design levels and will address the social, cultural, historical, environmental and financial realities of this case.