PhD Position in Design Driven Participation Processes Supporting Transitions

Catholic University of Leuven


Urbanism and Architecture (OSA) intertwines two distinct but connected definitions of urbanism: urbanism as the act of intervening in the city and urbanism as science of the city. In the first, the discipline defines the intervention in, and the future development of the city- to begin with through design. The latter, the science of the city, refers to the accumulation of knowledge that is necessary - or at least useful - to evaluate, monitor and design policies, programs and plans for the (re) development and management of the city. Current projects include the spatial exploration of Palestinian refugee camps, place production under war conditions, landscape urbanism in the mining areas of Peru, the spatial structuring and cartographical exploration of different regions of Flanders, and the production of space by/for people on the move.


REFLIP: Regenerating Flemish Industry Parks

For the REFLIP project we are looking for 3 PhD candidates or 2 PhD candidates and one part-time post-doctoral researcher who will be supervised by Prof. Allacker, Prof. De Meulder, dr. Marin and Prof. Vande Moere (Department of Architecture), Prof. Dewil (Department of Mechanical Engineering) and dr. Ottoy (Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences) in collaboration with HIVA KU Leuven, PPUL KU Leuven and Humanarc Research and in partnership with C-Valley, Interleuven, City of Leuven, Leuven 2030, Kortrijk, Kuurne, Leiedal, VOKA West-Flanders, Business Park Kortrijk-Noord, POM West-Flanders, OVAM, Departement Omgeving (PBM and VPO), BBL, VRP and VVSG.

REFLIP focuses on Flemish industry parks, mostly dating from the 1960s and requiring major spatial and infrastructural updates. As construction and demolition waste constitutes about one fourth of all waste, integrated circularity transition of these built environments is key. The REFLIP research project addresses the need to develop multi- and transdisciplinary methods to realize an integrated circular economy transition of the built environment. It examines how built environment transition processes can become (more) circular as a multidimensional ‘wicked’ problem. It mobilizes iterative design, life cycle environmental impact assessment, social impact analysis, operations research, and scenario thinking to bridge complementary disciplines and currently largely disconnected data-levels. More specifically, REFLIP focuses on the built environment of two Flemish industry parks and investigates the potential of circular regeneration of Flemish industry parks, considering the existing terrain and buildings as resources. As such, the research approaches circularity of the built environment in a representative yet ‘simple’ way: construction material flows and industry parks as material stocks. Design thinking, an iterative process redefining problems to identify alternative strategies, structures the overall research to enable integration.

The first project goal is to coproduce phased quantified future circularity visions and development strategies for two existing Flemish industry parks with a variety of stakeholders and experts. Secondly, REFLIP aims to generate process frameworks to implement these visions through planning tools and policy interventions in practice. Finally, the research aims to develop quantitative tools that increasingly absorb contextual specificities. Addressing real world problems while innovating within multiple scientific disciplines, REFLIP will have a societal impact at multiple levels:

1. it responds to immediate architecture, urban design and planning questions surrounding two Flemish Industry Parks in different socio-economic contexts (Leuven and Kortrijk);
2. it gathers relevant Flemish stakeholders in a collective learning and knowledge dissemination trajectory.
Reciprocity and mutual dependence between the disciplines is key in this multi- and transdisciplinary consortium aiming to identify barriers and opportunities in conception, legislation, production and consumption of the built environment as well as to support new balances between actors.

This vacancy is for PhD3 or part-time post-doctoral researcher - Design driven participation processes supporting (circular industry park) transitions.

(main supervisor Prof. De Meulder), (participatory design, collective learning, design thinking, data engagement, creative data practices)

The PhD or part-time post-doctoral researcher investigates (emerging) participatory processes and technological ecologies that exist within the REFLIP context. It mobilizes the design research (PhD2) and assessments (PhD1) as integration media in a collective learning trajectory with researchers and stakeholders from various backgrounds. This includes but is not limited to designing and rolling out an innovative stakeholder involvement process and infrastructure,developing various data formats, communication tools and formats, supporting interactions with different target-audiences, revealing how new forms of human data interaction and engagement can empower matters of urban legibility,agency, negotiability and collective learning. The PhD or part-time post-doctoral researcher creates new knowledge by studying designed(participation) artifacts in use or from the actual process of bringing new(participation) artifacts into being (in collaboration with PhD2). The research will focus on how data creation can be understood as a multilayered set of interlocking design activities by developing new stakeholder involvement processes and/or infrastructures that enable or encourage the acquisition,visualization and analysis of a rich variety of spatially-relevant data in shared, collaborative contexts. The expected outcomes can exist in new process frameworks that model and implement these visions through planning tools and policy interventions in practice.

The other two (PhD) projects articulate as follows: 

PhD1 or part-time post-doctoral researcher - Circularity assessment of the built environment of Flemish industry parks
(main supervisor Prof. Allacker), (industrial ecology,life cycle assessments, architectural engineering, circular building)

PhD2 - Re-design of industry parks for a circular transition of the built environment
(main supervisor Prof. De Meulder) (urban design, systemic design, research on/for/through design)
The three researchers collaborate in an iterative process of analyzing the context and other relevant data, imagining scenarios for change and circularity assessments.

Candidates preferably master Dutch as to guarantee fluid interactions with stakeholders and the community at large.


REFLIP looks for three passionate team players, eager to collaborate on common REFLIP goals, besides contributing to different disciplinary fields and developing their own research focus. Candidates will be challenged to learn other methodologies and to question their own. Since the three research projects reinforce and depend on each other, commitment to the project and the team is an important selection criterion. Autonomy, creativity, entrepreneurship, team spirit, proactive and open communication and commitment to work through disagreement and barriers in concepts and methods are key.

For this third PhD or part-time post-doctoral position we search someone with the talent to create clarity in complexity through excellent communication and mediation skills in academic as well as real-life stakeholder settings. This PhD requires drive, openness and creativity to understand and connect different stakeholder agendas and perspectives through actively using or adapting innovative communication and collaboration formats (e.g. graphic recording,video channels, online brainstorming tools,… ) both manually as well as technologically. Therefore, a genuine personal interest or active knowledge of appropriate data handling (e.g. ArcGIS, qGIS), qualitative research (e.g. NVivo) or digital content tools (e.g. web development) are a plus. Expertise in Flemish urban planning and material management legislation is also a plus. 

Preferred degree requirements: master in (architecture-)engineering or architecture, or any degree or combination of degrees that demonstrates knowledge about design-related as well as technical matters (e.g. Digital Humanities, design informatics, etc.). Dutch language proficiency is a must and an urban design degree as well as a practical experience are very welcome.


This vacancy consists of one of three full-time PhD fellowships or two full-time PhD fellowships and one 25% post-doctoral research position for 48 months with preferred/earliest starting date October 1st 2020, guided by a highly motivated and dynamic interdisciplinary supervisor team developing a multidisciplinary circular cities expertise network. As part of the first batch of PhD students you get the opportunity to actively help shaping this network while developing your entrepreneurial skills. As a team of three, you get the autonomy to innovate in how we can dynamically perform interdisciplinary research.

As part of this longer term goal to realize a circular cities expertise network you will be actively involved in the broader ongoing research on circular cities, linking your expertise to other contexts and questions and co-developing circular cities expertise center future agendas.

At KU Leuven and the Arenberg Doctoral School you have access to a range of courses to refine your general,communication and research skills. As an autonomous, responsible and committed PhD student/researcher, you benefit from flexible working conditions with plenty of room for professional and personal development. Depending on your interests, you get the opportunity to be involved in education (thesis guidance, design studio guidance) and service to society up to 20% of your time.

REFLIP allows you to be part of state of the art research that contributes to circularity transition in the built environment, has direct societal impact and allows you to become an expert in circular built environments, which will be highly relevant for your further career in practice and academia.

We invite you to apply via the online application by providing following documents:

   - a letter of motivation (max. 1 A4)

   - an up-to-date CV

   - optional: a portfolio (PDF format) demonstrating relevant skills and/or interests

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for an interview from the second half of August 2020. Candidates will be invited to present samples of relevant previous design and might be invited to fulfill specific tasks (e.g. reading and understanding specialized literature) before their interviews.

In the case suitable candidates do not present themselves, KU Leuven reserves the right to keep the vacancies open or to not fill the vacancies.

We look forward to meet you and to answer any questions you might have!

More information on admission and enrollment in the Arenberg Doctoral School can be found here:


For more information please contact Prof. dr. ir. Bruno De Meulder, tel.: +32 16 32 13 37, mail: or Mrs. Julie Marin, tel.: +32 16 37 43 80, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than August 17, 2020 via the
KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at
  • Employment percentage: Voltijdse of deeltijdse tewerkstelling mogelijk
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: August 17, 2020
  • Tags: Ingenieurswetenschappen

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