Emergency Buildings for Gaza and Nepal

Climate Change and Sustainability are very complex issues. The range of themes CAT students cover is incredibly varied – ranging from how to measure the heat loss from a building to heterodox economic theory. This week, humanitarian architecture takes centre stage. Students on the MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation (Built Environment/Planning) are joined by Jamie Richardson of Shelter and Construction to look at emergency buildings.

emergency shelter
UNHCR tarpaulin on emergency shelter

Learning about construction in these extreme environments is as connected to sustainability as everything else CAT does. The project is designed to give students the opportunity to engage with the task of building suitable shelters for refugees in times of conflict or disaster.

The module looks at the broad range of considerations needed for this kind of work: anthropology, logistics, materials, community consultation, the role of the NGO, thermal comfort and wellbeing, diplomacy and, of course, the sustainability of solutions among many other connected issues. It aims to equip students to be able to go into the field and make a difference to people’s lives. While the types of buildings that we might see on the news that are used to house refugees may seem like simple structures, the thought and logistical complexity that goes into their construction is considerable. There are three overarching considerations that shelters need to provide: durability, dignity and safety.

For the purpose of this module, students are given two contrasting scenarios in which they will be expected to engage with the theoretical and practical issues for each specific situation. The first situation the students faced was the aftermath of an earthquake in Nepal, with large numbers of people affected. This scenario was designed to demonstrate how a crisis might play out in a rural setting. Students looked at the location, available materials and logistics and then went out and built what they considered a viable shelter for people involved in the disaster. The second scenario, Gaza, offered students the opportunity to think theoretically and practically about shelter provision in a war affected, urban setting where practical considerations about the availability of materials, as well as safety, are paramount. The value of the module is that students not only get the theoretical background on emergency shelter provision, but then can put that theory into practice by actually constructing shelters and getting feedback on their efficacy.

bamboo earthquake shelter
A bamboo structre for use in Nepal

Over the next few days, students will be working on a practical research and development project for a modular, scalable design for a two story building that can be rapidly constructed using the small timbers available in Gaza. The basic design is already in use in Gaza. The designs make use of only 2” by 1” timbers and 1/2” inch plywood to construct various designs of I-beams suitable for floors, roofs and walls. The work student are carrying out this week will build on this existing design, testing new detailing in the construction of the floors and building some I-beams and other elements that will be load tested by Oxford Brookes University.

students emergency shelter
Constructing I-beams to test for use in two-story emergency buildings in Gasa

It is a compelling example of how the principles of sustainable architecture can be brought into this immediate and complex problem. Given that the world is seeing an unprecedented amount of forcibly displaced people globally, the skills taught on this module are able to positively contribute to a serious and growing problem.

More about the course

An opportunity awaits – students as drivers for change

student

Chris Woodfield is a student on the MSc Sustainability and Adaptation at CAT. Having now completed the majority of his taught modules, he reflects on what he has learned so far.

The taught part of my MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation is drawing to a close, with only the May and June modules left to complete on-site at CAT. So, has it lived up to expectation, what have I learnt, and what next?

As I highlighted in my previous blog post back in October “Is this the start of something big?” it is an exciting time to be a student, and this is definitely still the case.

student
Chris on Aberystwyth sea front

CAT’s unique immersive on-site learning experience has definitely been a highlight as I have taken all of my modules on-site and this is something which will be missed.

I would wholeheartedly recommend choosing the on-site options rather than undertaking modules via distance-learning. This is predominantly because of the engagement and creative discussion that flows with fellow students on the course as well as with the other Graduate School of the Environment courses. Furthermore, the chance to enjoy and explore CAT’s beautiful site and lovely vegetarian/vegan food is a bonus.

The wide variety and broad nature of the modules has allowed me to expand upon and develop a holistic understanding of sustainability and adaptation, whilst also exploring specific areas of interest in more detail.

I have taken the modules Ecosystem Services, Environmental Politics and Economics, Cities and Communities, Energy Flows in Buildings Part A and B, and will finish with the Sustainable Materials and Applied Project modules in May and June.

My two most recent modules, Energy Flows in Buildings A and B, have explored energy efficiency in buildings, heat, moisture and air flows, building physics, and eco-refurbishment. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that what is more important is energy flows in humans, and the way we, as citizens, experience and interact with the environment and make decisions to influence the World around us.

Sustainability, environmental and social issues are often portrayed as negative “problems” or “issues” that we need to solve to make the world a better place.

However, my time at CAT has reinforced and strengthened the view that to enhance and facilitate positive change sustainability needs to be viewed as an opportunity; an exciting, rewarding, fulfilling and challenging opportunity.

One opportunity that many of us in a similar position to me are currently embarking upon is to carry out a major dissertation project. However, what will, and can we do?

The possibilities are endless and it is a difficult decision to narrow down ideas into a concrete research project. For me, I still have a variety of ideas and passions I would like to pursue, for example, food waste, marine plastic pollution, heathy, happy communities, environmental education and how people view and relate to nature.

With this being said, one thing is clear, we all have the unique opportunity of a lifetime to make a real, meaningful, creative and thought-provoking contribution to scientific research, community engagement and/or expanding and delving deep into the issues we care about.

Another important aspect I have developed whilst studying at CAT, is the appreciation of the scale and urgency of the change that is needed. Again, this may reinforce negativity and leave a sense of hopelessness. However, I know that in our own small way, students can be catalysts for change and rise to the challenge of not just a more sustainable world, but a healthier, happier, more socially-connected, benevolent global society that is thriving in every sense of the word.

One recent innovative example of students exploring the barriers to change in terms of CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain project was an open space ideas sharing and discussion two-day event entitled “Where’s the carrot?”, organised by GSE students and the ZCB team.

Some people say change has to start somewhere, but I truly believe, positive change is already underway, we just to need harness the creative energy and ambition and turn it into action. Who and where better to do this, than students on their major dissertation project? Only time will tell….

Film from the Zero Carbon Britain – Where’s the Carrot? event.

 

 

Getting to grips with thermal comfort

John Butler reports from the latest module of the MSc Sustainability and Adaptation courses at CAT. John is a student on the MSc Sustainability and Adaptation in the Built Environment course. He normally blogs on his site http://thewoodlouse.blogspot.com/ and you can follow him on Twitter @the_woodlouse.

The March module of CATs Sustainability and Adaptation MSc was part B of Energy Flows in Buildings. Part A (in February) introduced us to ideas of thermal comfort and its relation to heat transfers from the human body to its surroundings. This was tied to the implications of maintaining that thermal comfort, and the impact on energy use. We learnt about calculating U-Values (used as a standard measure of the thermal efficiency of a building element), and daylighting: making best use of natural daylight in a building and calculating the resulting energy savings.

educational building
The view from a bedroom in the WISE building, home of the MSc and Part II Architecture students

Part B expanded on this getting into more detail about limiting the flows of energy through a building, whilst addressing issues around ventilation and movement of moisture. A sustainable building should maintain a comfortable environment – comfortably warm in winter, comfortably cool in summer, ideal humidity levels, good air quality – with minimal energy input, and without moisture ingress causing degradation of the building fabric. Throughout the week different elements of possible means to achieve this were discussed.

A recurring theme throughout the week was retrofit – upgrading the thermal efficiency of existing buildings to reduce their energy use and related CO2 emissions. The most commonly stated best-estimate is that around 80% of existing houses will still be in use by 2050; the potential contribution to reduced energy use and emissions from such a large number of buildings is huge, but presents a challenge. There are advantages and disadvantages to various approaches, from aesthetic considerations (eg: changing the appearance of a building when externally insulating it), to practical (eg: loss of space when internally insulating), to technical (eg: the risk of condensation forming at the meeting of new insulation and existing structure if it is not carefully considered). Planning and conservation concerns can also influence or restrict choices for retrofit.

viewing insulation retrofit
MSc students examine mockups of internal and external insulation, for solid-wall retrofit

There are also issues and trade-offs surrounding choice of insulation materials – the most highly efficient materials may have a greater overall environmental impact than some less efficient materials. Some are more breathable (open to passage of moisture vapour) than others, which can have both positive and negative implications, depending on application.

Another recurring theme was the need to account for future changes to our climate in both retrofit and new build. In particular, too much emphasis on designing to conserve heat could lead to overheating further down the line when atmospheric temperatures increase. Careful attention to placement of glazing and shading to control solar gain can help address this, allowing direct sunlight in to provide warmth in winter when the sun’s path is lower, and sheltering the building from the most intense direct sunlight in summer when the sun is higher.

The role of thermal mass in regulating internal temperatures was discussed in a number of lectures. Depending on climate and design, thermal mass may hang on to winter day-time heat, releasing it within the building through the night – or assist cooling by absorbing excess heat in summer, if combined with effective ventilation to purge that heat at night. Used inappropriately thermal mass may add to overheating, so its use must be considered carefully.

thermal image
Thermal imaging shows hot heating pipes (bright) and cold area where air is coming in around cables (dark areas)

A practical in the second half of the week provided a demonstration of heat loss through unplanned ventilation (ie: draughts). This was linked to the need to provide controlled ventilation (whether through opening windows or via mechanical ventilation), and highlighted the difficulties of achieving airtightness (eliminating draughts) in some existing buildings. The practical involved carrying out an air-pressure test to establish the air-permeability of the timber-framed selfbuild house on the CAT site (ie: how much air moved through the fabric of the building at a certain pressure). In groups we surveyed the building with thermal imaging cameras, before and during the test. The resulting images clearly showed how the cold incoming air cooled surrounding surfaces, demonstrating the impact of air infiltration on energy use. A scheme to retrofit the selfbuild house at CAT would have to include a means to reduce this.

air pressure test
The door-fan, used to de-pressurise a building to identify air-ingress

The end of the week saw us discussing Passivhaus and visiting the Hyddgen Passivhaus office/community building in Machynlleth, with the building’s designer John Williamson. Some myths about Passivhaus were busted (for instance: you can open windows), and the physics-based fabric-first approach was explained. The standard is based around high comfort levels combined with incredibly low energy input. While on site we investigated the MVHR unit (Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery), which removes stale air from the building, and uses it to heat fresh incoming air. These are a common feature of passivhaus, as they allow the removal of moist air and other airborne contaminants and it’s replacement with fresh air, whilst minimising heat loss. This system has been the subject of some heated debates with fellow students at CAT, due to questions about the amount of energy needed to run the system and how user-friendly it is or isn’t. We were shown that when installed correctly, the system recovers more energy than is needed to run it.

passivhaus
Hyddgen Passivhaus in Machynlleth

As ever, throughout this course connections were constantly drawn between all the different areas covered (the inescapable interconnectedness of all things!). Nothing stands in isolation; each decision in one area can have repercussions in another. The different elements of building physics and materials must be balanced with each other and with the effect of any action on the wider environment.

temperature recording
Measuring the air temperature in MVHR heating ducts at Hyddgen, prior to calculating the overall efficiency and heatloss/recovery of the the system

The immersive learning environment during module weeks at CAT is highly effective, and very intense. It’s a wonderfully stimulating and supportive place to be, but at the end of the week that intensity needs a release in order for us all to return to our normal lives without winding up our friends and family when we get there. That takes the form of the vitally essential Friday night social, which this month was themed around a Cyfarfod Bach, a laid back Welsh social. We had beautiful music and singing, comedy, artwork, silliness, a rousing rendition of the Welsh National Anthem (not too shabby, considering only a handful of people were Welsh speakers or had any idea how the tune went in advance) and finally a leg-shattering amount of dancing, ensuring we could all go home in physical pain but happily and calmly buzzing.

See more blogs about the MSc Sustainability and Adaptation course. 

Ecosystems, sewage and the fun side of sustainable architecture

Architecture studentsTasha Aitken is studying for a Professional Diploma in Architecture at CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment. Here she reports of a module in which saw students getting knee deep in poo, learning about ecological sanitation (with less involved options for the those of a more delicate disposition!), ecosystem services, Gaia theory and water and waste management. The module was held jointly with students from the masters degree in sustainability and adaptation.

 

I think many of my fellow students would agree with me that returning to CAT for the November module, our third of 18 for the Professional Diploma course, was like returning home. Everyone dribbled in at various times throughout the evening and each time, everyone gathered round to greet the new arrivals.

I think many of my fellow students would also agree that the pace had really been cranked up as October turned to November. Ready to greet us on Monday and Tuesday mornings respectively were our first assessed presentation and submission deadlines for a 3,000 word essay and 1250 word practical. So, with the brief intermissions to welcome course-mates we hadn’t seen for weeks, most of us were beavering away at the finishing touches to our written work and starting (!) our presentations for the following morning.

The presentation topic was unspecified, but the length was strictly 10 minutes, really getting us to think about content, flow and conciseness of delivery. As a result, the day was a brief snapshot into the other three-quarters of each-others’ lives outside of CAT-week. Topics ranged from building out of found materials in an eco-village and involvement in community projects to the principles of teaching Forest School. Even those, including myself, who presented on an aspect of their Ceinws Sustainable Rural Affordable Housing Project were putting across a chosen interest personal to them. It was a brilliant enlightenment to the expanse of knowledge and experience we have as a collective.

After a day of presentations, Tuesday saw us revert back to a more normal schedule of lectures. This month’s module has been “Ecosystem Services, Land-Use and Water and Waste Management”: a mouthful to say and an even bigger plateful of really practical information taking us back to the basics of resource use. As ProfDips, we didn’t attend the entire lecture series but still managed to cover topics such as: Contaminated Land, Ecological Sanitation, Flooding and Urban Design, Food Security, Ecosystems Services, and Resource Management. To pick out a single issue to tell you about is tricky, but perhaps one most relevant to CAT philosophy is the idea of the Meta-Industrial Era. The Resource Management lecture by Peter Harper talked about the transitions made from Pre-Industrial to Early Industrial and to the Mature Industrial Era, our current position, increasingly abandoning low impact natural materials in favour of high performance, high impact technologies. Discussion related to the modern day relevance of natural pre-industrial materials, where it was suggested that the “Meta-Industrial Age” involves using low energy materials wherever possible, but adding ‘industrial vitamins’, such as internet, electricity and high-quality glazing, allowing expected standards of living to continue.

Meta-Industrial materials
Material Impacts in Successive Inudstrial Ages (Harper P. 2014 Resources and Resource Management; powerpoint presentation at CAT, 11.11.2014)

 

On Thursday, Brian Moss, the noted ecologist sandwiched dinner with two lectures, and whose stimulating content was centred around, firstly, the idea of natural selection and the debate between co-operative and selfish evolution: pack behaviour versus the protective female instinct. His point was that we are an invasive species and to overcome our selfish nature – self-promotion and self-indulgence – would be to allow the Earth to survive. The second part was really about what the human species’ place in the world is: Is our work to restore the planet unnatural? If we are part of nature, can anything we do be unnatural? And finally, explaining that “the spirit level” may be a Silver Bullet for the Earth. Moss pointed out that the feudal system gave few an enormous sphere of influence with potential to ruin the Earth , whilst the pre-feudal clans and tribes were unable to make such an impact and would take themselves out upon acting unsustainably, therefore removing the problem.

Possibly the most exciting part of the week for everyone was Practical Day, and the prospect of getting knee deep in poo during Louise’s sanitation option! However, you will have to ask someone else about that as I chose to walk around Machynlleth and observe existing and potential ecosystem services, in other words, the ways in which nature can provide for us, e.g. trees giving shade or plants as a food source.

Ecosystem services plants
Ecosystem services outside the coop (author’s photograph)

And on to the Friday night social, in the absence of Tim, Tom Barker took up the mantle and introduced the theme of Moodle, our online information service that had been causing a few hiccups recently. Poems with as many oodle-rhyming words as possible were read out in Irish accents and with guitar accompaniments and people stamped their user-numbers on their foreheads. Oh, and there was an entirely unrelated acro-yoga session, the pinnacle of which was our human pyramid!

Human Engineering (author’s photograph)

Come to our Professional Diploma in Architecture end of year exhibition on Friday 16th January

The stakes are tropospheric; Why the Lima climate talks are so important.

The climate talks have opened in Peru,  their aim is to lay the foundation for an agreement in Paris and the stakes could not be higher. 195 countries are meeting to lay the groundwork for a new global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The stakes are tropospheric, and far clearer now than when Kyoto was negotiated. High tide floods are becoming common across the coastal U.S. Greenhouse gases are making seas hotter and more acidic. Climate change is clearly amping heat waves, which are fueling wildfires. Global temperatures have risen 1.5°F since the Industrial Revolution, pushing sea levels and storm surges up an average of 8 inches. Greenhouse gas levels are rising now faster than ever.

Whilst everybody agrees that they want a deal, the devil, in this case is very much in the detail. This article explores some of the sticking points around COP20/21

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Targets

The 196 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have set an outside target of limiting global warming to 2°C over pre-industrial levels. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and other climate-vulnerable countries want a tougher 1.5°C goal.

Legal Format

Should the pact be a “treaty” to be ratified by national parliaments, a slightly less formal “protocol” or some other form of agreement? And to what degree will it be binding under international law? These questions, crucial and explosive, are likely to be decided in the final hours in Paris, say insiders.

Content

The deal is meant, for the first time, to bind all countries to a common climate text, with nations making pledges to curb emissions of Earth-warming greenhouse gases. Developing countries point to the principle of “differentiation” and want rich economies, who have polluted more for longer, to shoulder a bigger burden for addressing the problem. Wealthy countries, in turn, point to the rise of China and India as massive emitters of carbon from fossil fuel driving their growth, and insist on equal treatment for all. Poorer economies fear the talks are too focused on emissions curbs, known in climate jargon as “mitigation”.

They want the agreement to spell out financing for their own mitigation plans, but also help for adaptation, technology transfers, and compensation for climate damage. Not yet settled is the very wording of the pact – should the targets be called “commitments” or “contributions”?

Emissions pledges

Countries are being asked to submit their emissions pledges (“intended nationally determined contributions” or INDCs) by the first quarter of 2015. In Lima, negotiators will be tasked with agreeing on the type of information the INDCs must contain, and whether they will be housed in an annex or attachment to the main accord or in less formal “national schedules”. Before they become formal, will the pledges be assessed to determine whether they are sufficient, combined, to meet the warming target?

And if they are found lacking, will parties reconsider their commitments voluntarily or would there would be a “top-down” adjustment based on a global carbon budget (the total amount of fossil fuel the world has left to burn without exceeding the warming limit)?

Countries also disagree on whether the pledges should be for five- or 10-year cycles, and how frequently they should be reconsidered, if at all.

Follow up and compliance

Reviewing and disciplining countries that fail to live up to their commitments is another thorny issue. Will there be an international review of countries’ performance, a compliance mechanism or committee, or none?

(AFP, Paris) 

Green Capitalism

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The failing market in carbon

Despite the failures of the carbon market to date ( it has not reduced emissions or prevented environmental degradation) some countries seem determined to keep trying.  A new carbon market that will spur emerging nations to cut emissions is the key element of next year’s planned global climate accord.  Amber Rudd U.K. official said, “winning United Nations support for a market that would give credits for emission reductions would be the most important part of any international agreement,”

But as Oscar Reyes puts it in his briefing for Carbon trade watch– “Try again, fail again, fail better.”

There is significant opposition to schemes such carbon trading at REDD+ from a wide range of campaign groups as well as Latin American countries such as, Bolivia Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua that have a record of rejecting market-based approaches to cutting emissions. Evo Morales blames capitalism squarely for climate change: “The real cause of climate change is the capitalist system. If we want to save the earth then we must end that economic model. Capitalism wants to address climate change with carbon markets. We denounce those markets and the countries which [promote them]. It’s time to stop making money from the disgrace that they have perpetrated.”

The people’s summit being is being held in Lima at the same time and is calling for  an ambitious, fair, equitable, and binding climate agreement. That is able, in record time, to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by no less than 50% based on the principles of equity and common and includes climate justice for the most vulnerable. If no such agreement is reached, the life of future generations is at risk. At the summit issues such as Payment for eco system services, Green capitalism ,REDD+ will be debated and alternatives proposed that are not based in perpetuating neo liberal market economies.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————-A breakthrough in Lima is vital if we to get see a global agreement in 2015, the agreement of China and the US to reduce emissions has been seen as a major boost for the climate talks. In order to reduce emissions to net zero by 2070 and earlier in developed countries there is no time to waste. Government processes are needed to create change but equally importantly is a global, popular, mass movement for climate change that builds and demonstrates the world we want to see. From the massive protests world wide in September 2014 to the mobilisations already going on ahead of Paris 2015 we can only achieve this enormous task by working together with a renewed focus and unified voice- presenting a powerful force for change.

 

 

Community led design as standard

James Irvine is a student on the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) Professional Diploma in Architecture (Part II) course. Here he reports on the second residential period at CAT, where students have been applying the principles of community engagement. 

I travelled through to CAT from Lincoln on Sunday to arrive late in Machynlleth. During the final leg of the journey I actually managed (after rectifying a brief lapse of concentration – or getting on a train to Sheffield instead of Birmingham) to tie together some of the presentation we were asked to prepare for Monday morning. The end of September’s Prof Dip week saw our group being split up and tasked with researching different elements of a site in Ceinws. The site is the focus of our first project: a decommissioned piece of Forestry Commission land (now Natural Resources Wales) which is being considered for social housing. Our group chose to research the subjects of land tenure, financial, legal and governance of the project which (maybe surprisingly) was the most popular choice. Other group’s elements of site research included: energy, environment, topography, historical, transportation, materiality and building typology / vernacular.

Architecture part II
The team: Professional Diploma in Architecture students 2014

So, upon arriving at CAT, I was greeted with some left-over supper and by my group: Tasha, Gemma and Paulo and we spent the rest of the evening catching up and putting the finishing touches to our Monday morning presentation before heading to bed. We were all really pleased to be back at CAT and surprisingly well prepared and informed of each other’s research directions, due to the pretty consistent flow of emails, messages and Skype chats between us since September’s module.

Monday morning and our presentation was well received. We spoke of Community Land Trusts, self builds, flexible models for growth and Section 106 agreements for affordable housing… though what is really worth mentioning is the amount of information that the group as a whole managed to gather about the site! Site analysis is a fundamental part of any architecture project and one of the first skills we are asked to develop as undergraduate students: observation, sketching, photography, research, sense of place, even conversations with the community in the local pub are valuable information gathering skills (or not so much…) and up until now I have relied upon my own skills, resources and analysis techniques to take me into a project. But with twenty people working on a project, and each with a different approach we managed to uncover a huge amount of information. There was an impressive level of presentation and we learnt loads from each other’s work – and what a rich resource to begin a project with! It was rare during my part one to work collaboratively, which felt un-natural to me – (surely architecture firms work collaboratively?) I got the feeling that the whole group had embraced this way of working and that the whole really was greater than the sum of it’s parts; all at the end being grateful for each others contributions.

It is worth mentioning that the Ceinws Affordable Rural Housing Project is a live project, being that the Ceinws community has recognised a need for more housing for a changing local population. The last ten years has seen a local community group and Community Land Trust being set up to protect the land with extensive consultations taking place. The proposals have drawn support and partnerships from local and national agencies and the work we will produce for the project will hopefully help inform, and draw further support for the housing project.

Infographic Ceinws
An infographic of the Ceinws community, by fellow student Kirsty Cassels

The rest of the week gave us plenty of time to re-visit the site and develop our designs. Ideas were shared and discussed within the group and there was ample time for feedback from our tutors. For this project we couldn’t ask for a better team of architects with the relevant experience to guide and support our group: Prof Dip’s course leaders Duncan Edwards and Trish Andrews. Duncan gave a lecture on the work he has done on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne: working with the local community to establish affordable social housing solutions in this delicate location. He spoke of the enabling and transformational aspects that good housing can give to a community and also the frustrations of negotiating a bureaucratic system. Trish has lived locally for a long time, has a wealth of local information and is a key member of the steering committee for the Ceinws Project. Pat Borer – who gave a short workshop on calculating U-values and who with David Lea designed the WISE Centre here at CAT which we work in every day, and which really is a beautiful space to be taught in and David Lea who has designed and been involved in several social housing projects throughout the 70’s and 80’s and gave a lecture about the efficiency of space and the importance of maintaining green spaces in cities and urban areas.

This issue really resonated with me as over the last couple of years I have been working alongside charities and community groups in my home town of Lincoln on placemaking and community gardening projects. This work has shown me the clear therapeutic benefits of gardening and what a positive difference green spaces and a connection with nature can give, which is not always easy in a city.

Some other great lectures this week included an introduction to the principles of Permaculture by Chris Dixon. I had no idea that permaculture was such a wide reaching discipline – it’s ethics embracing development on a personal, environmental and community level. There was an evening lecture from Sunand Prasad, ex president of the RIBA from Penoyre & Prasad Architects who won this year’s AJ100 Sustainable Practice of the Year.  Elena Blackmore gave a really inspiring lecture about Common Cause. Common Cause were set up to promote debate around the values and motivations which affect societal change. Or alternatively: to encourage change through fostering intrinsic values – such as self acceptance, concern for others and care for the natural world – and move away from negative power structures which foster fear and alienation. Anna from Adaptation Scotland gave a really inspiring lecture about the challenges of adaptation and mitigation to climate change from a national agency’s perspective. The key things that I took from this was that effective change is the most sustainable when it begins at community level.

There was definitely a thread running through the weeks lectures and workshops: responsible design, community development, collaboration, dialogue, reinforcement from research from classic and social sciences, the challenges of engagement beginning from a positive perspective and not through fear. These are the reasons I chose to come to CAT – where else could you go?

We also tidied the wood working barn, this time lapse shows what we achieved:

Find out more about CAT’s Professional Diploma in Architecture.

Imagining a climate resilient community

Anna Cooke-Yarborough reports on the latest part of the MSc Sustainability and Adaptation course, which included sessions on permaculture with Chris Dixon and Ruth Stevenson, Values with Elena Blackmore (Common Cause) and Sustainable Architecture Practice with Sunand Prasad (ex president of RIBA).

The second part of the first module was ‘Context and Planning’ and our task for the week was to envisage a climate resilient community on the land around Castell y Bere. This is a castle initially constructed in the 12th century and now lies ruined, situated on a hill near Llanfihangel-y-pennant in Gwynedd, Wales.

Planning a climate resilient community
Planning a climate resilient community

We were divided into two groups and headed off to explore the location using Castell y Bere as a viewpoint. All the land we could see from the castle site was available to work with. The use of the natural drainage divide, marked by the peaks of the hills around, felt very appropriate as one of our aspirations was to make the area ecosystem enhancing. Understanding the precipitation and drainage of the land were key to improving the environment for all the organisms dwelling there. To give time to develop an individual view we approached in silence and came together once everyone had had enough time to consider the space alone. As a collective project this quiet time proved important, the group work that followed was full of highs and lows, concentrated, a little frayed, but most of all a great learning experience.

student exerise
Personal reflection was the starting point for the exercise

We were expected to provide for a population of 500, be fossil free within 10 years, increase resilience, be waste free, carbon sequestering and ecosystem enhancing, and to promote non-growth trading. With so much to research in a short time-scale both groups divided into sub-groups to explore the important areas of this imaginary community in more detail. These were decided as water and food, shelter and energy, health and wellbeing along with governance, transport and communication. The interdependence of all these aspects was clear from the start and so frequent sharing of discoveries and ideas was key. The realisation of the extent of flooding experienced in the area was an important turning point in much of our thinking, and this had to be considered alongside the likelihood of longer dry spells as well.

Discussing climate change adaptation and flooding
Discussing climate change adaptation and flooding

Spider diagrams, timelines, playdough figures, poems, acting, long discussions, longer debates and many maps all ensued. One thing was clear from the start – this was going to be a challenging week.

The Architecture Practice Lecture given by Sunand Prasad was full of ideas we could take forward and use in our community design. He made mention of ending reliance on fossil fuels, the importance of flexibility and symbiosis along with the idea of leaving no trace. Something I found particularly useful was the notion that buildings cannot be finished, that they need to be constantly tuned.

One of the key things we were able to look into throughout the week was Permaculture design, with lectures from Ruth Stevenson and Chris Dixon. The importance of cycles, appropriate zoning and working with natural systems in Permaculture design became clear, along with the versatility of the ideas involved, which can be attributed to all aspects of life. The emphasis on rediscovery and understanding traditional systems were particularly interesting. There is so often an emphasis on the development of new ideas, when many important possibilities are either hidden or forgotten.

Elena Blackmore from Common Cause came to give us a lecture and workshop on values. It was interesting to see how many of our values as a group were similar, which was probably related to the decision we took to take the course, whilst even in this niche setting some values were very contrasting in terms of how important we deemed them to be. Often perceived as something abstract it was good to learn more about values, including how they can be changed and how they affect responses to global issues. In terms of planning our communities it was useful to establish as groups the most focal values, using these to help guide some decision-making.

student working
‘Valley Republic’ working group

After a lot of table moving, information sharing and weaving together of ideas it was finally time to clamp down and get a presentation together. Both groups were secretive in their final plans, so the last hours were tense and exciting.

Republic of Naz told the tale of their community in the setting of “Memory Tavern”, making use of drama. It was an extremely funny, clever and playful display of the development of the community, complete with a special effects transport display! The Valley Republic similarly took the view to look back over the growth of their community, this time at a celebratory festival. They put together a presentation with Bardic linking to the different sections, complete with a beating drum. The community were caught out on their desire to be pirates with the inclusion of a large, wooden boat in their master plan.

cycling presentation
The Power of cycling – lively presentation by ‘Naz’ working group

So the group work phase came to an end. All of us had learnt a great deal and it was a little sad leaving behind all our plans. There are whispers in the air though.

It was time to celebrate the end of a long week again and Friday night made way for a Halloween party. There was a lot of face painting, a murder mystery game underway in the straw bale theatre, music and dancing, with thanks to the super organisation by Kirsty Cassels, Josh Shimmin and James Irvine.

Halloween face painting
Face painting for Halloween party

On Saturday we had the opportunity of a lecture and workshop from Anna Beswick, who works for Adaptation Scotland. Having had a week working largely outside of real-world scenarios this was a valuable and positive insight into the difficulties faced along with possibilities and examples of adaptation across the UK, with the importance of dialogue, community involvement and working across regions made clear.

At lunch we headed our separate ways again, our heads full of ideas and thankful to everyone that made it such an enjoyable week. We all went away a great deal more knowledgeable about the challenges and opportunities surrounding community planning.

To find out more about this course and others, come to CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment open day on November 16th

MSc Students visit ancient ruin of Castell y Bere with ideas to build a Utopian Community

Susannah Trevelyan, who is volunteering in CAT’s media and marketing department, joins MSc students on an Adaptation Planning exercise in Castell y Bere.

Adaptation planning

Today I was lucky enough to be allowed a sneak preview into the  MSc Sustainability and Adaptation’s field trip to Castell y Bere, an ancient ruin of a 12th century castle that clings to a rocky out crop in the beautiful hills above Cardigan Bay. We had been split into two groups and given a brief earlier in the morning at the WISE centre; it was our job to design a utopian climate resilient community, that within 10 years would, amongst other things support a community of 500 and be carbon neutral. Given the positions of leaders of this new community it was our job to organise food security, energy security, communication networks, clean water and sanitation, fuel, and a political and trading system. Everything a community needs would have to be worked out and presented in a proposal by the end of the week. This was a chance to share knowledge and to discuss what we would really use to  build the foundations of the future.

Future Leaders? MSc students gather to kickstart their adaptation and sustainability planning project at Castell y Bere.
The MSc students gather as leaders of a new utopian society.
The rain held off for us as we approached the ruins at Castell y Bere.
The MCs students are asked to arrive on site in silence, so as to enable a clarity and personal approach to the sustainability and adaptation exercise.
Sustainability and adaptation planning in action with the sun shining on the MSc fieldtrip at Castell y Bere.
Lecturer Louise Halestrap gives us a few directions in terms of what we need to consider when prioritising our group adaptation and sustainability exercise.

In order to make this practical possible it was important that we make some assumptions about the project and its context, the following of which were given to us…

  • We must support a population of 500 people
  • We can use any land we can see
  •  We must increase the sites resilience against climate change
  •  We must be fossil free within 10 years
  •  We must be waste free
  •  We must be carbon sequestering
  •  We must be ecosystem enhancing
  •  We must develop non-growth trading

We organised ourselves according to areas of expertise and interest, and I ended up in the Health and Wellbeing group. Having worked in the arts, particularly within mental health I was acutely aware of the important role health and wellbeing could play in our utopian society, and was excited to be able to engage with the crossovers it had with other aspects of living. Maybe we could develop a preventative medicinal approach to health, with a nutritious diet and a medicinal garden? Maybe we could develop community through the farming, along with celebrations and festivities in accordance with the seasons…

On top of the world ! MSc students survey the surrounding landscape on their field trip at Castell y Bere.
On top of the world ! MSc students survey the surrounding landscape on their field trip at Castell y Bere.

Under the strict supervision of our kind course leader we arrived on site in silence, allowing all of us to naturally conceive of a vision on site. After half an hour we erupted into chatter and started to tackle some of the most pressing issues in our future community. Where would we get clean water from? Where would we live and what would we eat? These were just a few of the most pressing issues we needed to agree on before lunch, never mind the education and health system.

MSc Students on a fieldtrip at Castell y Bere.
MSc Students, team naz, getting their heads together to discuss the main concerns of this budding utopian community.

It soon became apparent that setting up a new utopian community wasn’t as simple as it sounds, with a multitude of complex issues needing investigation before we could move confidently on. To make the most of our time we decided to list all the potential resources the site offered and, then continued shaping the broader issues at hand.

Recording the natural resources available to use was an important part of the day.
Natural resources in the ruins surrounding Castell y Bere include a small meandering river, and pasture land, which maybe is in risk of flooding considering climate change?

 

MSc Field trip to the ruins at Castell y Bere.
Ancient oaks cover the steep slopes leading up the ruins at Castell y Bere . Maybe this would be a useful resource for our new utopian community.

What should we do with the ruins themselves? To put in perspective the heritage of the site, the history tells a tale not unlike that of Game of Thrones; The site of dramatic wars with the English, where the Welsh king Llywelyn the Great held his authority over the Welsh. In 1221 Llywelyn took control of neighbouring Meirionnydd from his son, Gruffydd; Llywelyn had previously placed Gruffydd in power there, but the father and son had fallen out. The prince then began to build the castle of Castell y Bere with the intent of controlling the local population and securing his new south-west border, which included the mountain trade routes between Gwynedd, Powys Wenwynwyn and Deheubarth. Castell y Bere was the first of several stone castles built by Llywelyn and the initial castle consisted of several towers positioned around a courtyard, situated on a rocky hillock in the Dysynni Valley near Cadair Idris. 

Maybe we should just forget the past, as some of the group suggested, deconstruct the castle and reuse the stones for our new buildings? A fierce debate ensued, with a multitude of ideas for the castle ruins thrown into the air.

To be able to take all these complex and relevant issues into account in our plans certainly gave us food for thought, and it was there i left the group to develop plans of their own. The sun  had shone down on us  making this a very enjoyable day, jam packed with juice discussion. I’m sure that by the end of the week, the MSc students will have fallen out and made up a million times, be a bit battered around the edges,  but also be a bit more knowledgable about exactly what it takes to plan for the requirements of future generations.

Come to our open day on 16th November to find out more about the masters degrees in Sustainability and Adaptation, Renewable Energy, Planning and the Built Environment. 

 Susannah Trevelyan

Media and Marketing Volunteer CAT.

 

 

 

Masters Courses Open Day November 2014

16 November at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT)

10:30 – 4:30

Join us on Sunday the 16th November to meet tutors and decide which environmental masters degree at CAT is most suitable for you. There will be an opportunity to:

* Have a tour of the Centre, including accommodation and teaching facilities *
* Meet past and current students *
* Meet tutors on the courses *
* Experience a taster lecture *

To book a place, including a free lunch, please email Kit Jones gsmo@cat.org.uk by 9th November. If you can’t make this date but would like to know about future open days please contact the same address.

Masters degrees open day

Leading Environmental Centre

Based in a stunning setting in the Welsh hills, the Centre for Alternative Technology has been providing sustainability education for over 40 years and offers a range of inspirational postgraduate programmes. A unique combination of leading professionals, academics and authors teach and lead the the courses, offering GSE students the ability to develop not only their theoretical and academic knowledge, but also their practical skills.

Who should study at CAT?

Anyone who wants a flexible, challenging masters course in an environmental field will find studying at CAT rewarding. CAT offers MSc courses in these areas, and tutors will be on hand to talk about all of them on the open day:

Environmental science and policyEnvironmental policy masters

Degrees at CAT are for anyone who wants to understand the implications of environmental change for our society. The MSc Sustainability and Adaptation degree encourages you to develop a deep understanding of environmental challenges. It interrogates the social, political and economic transition that adapting to and mitigating climate change involves. Many students from CAT have gone on to work in local, national or international policy in the public sector and for NGOs and campaign groups.

renewable energy mastersRenewable energy

For people wanting to build a career in the renewable energy industry the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment degree programme is an ideal launchpad. Graduates of CAT have gone on to work for large engineering firms, energy companies, have developed their own projects and set up their own firms. It is a technical degree that gives you the skills to be involved with both the practical and strategic side of developing renewable energy.

Buildings and the built environmentenvironmental building courses

Students interested in sustainable construction and design are able to develop an in depth understanding of issues related to buildings and environmental change. The MSc Sustainability and Adaptation in the Built Environment course offers students practical experience in ecological building design and methods, as well as a detailed understanding of environmental building issues including energy management, renewable technology, building performance assessment and water and waste management. CAT graduates have gone on to a broad range of careers including facilities management, consultancy, ecological building and policy jobs. Many have set up their own companies.

sustainable planning mastersPlanning and strategy

Sustainability and climate change resilience are becoming the twin pillars by which new developments will be assessed. The MSc Sustainability and Adaptation Planning masters degree is the route to understanding these twin challenges on both the practical and strategic level. The course includes master planning exercises, applied projects and units covering cities and communities, water management, buildings and energy provision.

Lecturers from all these courses will be available on the open day to answer your questions

Sustainable architecture

Students wanting to study on our Professional Diploma in Architecture should contact us about arranging a visit during one of our teaching weeks instead of coming to the open day: gsmo@cat.org.uk

Student experience

Watch the film to find out why masters degrees at CAT are different

Flexible Learning: Distance learning or on site?

Degrees in sustainability and adaptation (including the built environment and planning pathways) have been designed with a completely flexible approach to learning. Students can choose for each module whether they want to study it on site at CAT or by distance learning. You can choose to take the whole course by distance learning, the whole course on-site or a mixture of the two.

What our students are saying

“Enjoyed every minute of the course. I now, for the first time in my life, have a job I truly enjoy”

“I have rarely felt so motivated, happy and focused. I have never danced so much either”

“I found the course exhilarating from the start”

“The MSc had a huge positive impact on my life. Now I have a job I love”

“Helped me work out how to go forward in life”

“I can totally recommend the course, particularly as its flexible and you can tailor it to meet your needs”

“Without it, I wouldn’t have my job. I only had the opportunity when my interviewer noticed that I had been to CAT!”

“The MSc is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things I have ever done.”

Postgraduate open day

16 November at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT)

10:30am – 4:30pm

The open days will be held on 16th November 2014. Please contact Kit Jones to book (includes free lunch), or if you can’t make this date and wish to be kept in touch about future events gsmo@cat.org.uk.