Summer school at CAT – blogs by architecture students

Hello again,

The summer school is well on it’s way now and the students are soon ready to start their practical sessions.  But first, a few more of their blogs.

Sophia’s blog.

I am coming every month from London to attend the course. CAT has been an exceptional place to deepen my understanding of what I call “the production of architecture” and develop my own ability to produce design ideas with a pertinent focus on sustainability. Sometimes, like this month, I drag along my model on the bus, tube, train and taxi, to illustrate my ideas. I am using my site model to develop a concept on a mixed-use development. It’s great to have these few days to focus and progress on our design work without interruption (bar the table tennis competition!). I wish every month was like summer school.

Adam Harris’ blog.

As an attempt to provide a snapshot of what its like to be an architecture student at CAT, below is a narrative of what’s going on in the studio at this week’s summer school. A room with a view. A window looking into a peaceful and sensual courtyard with still water, reflecting light into the rooms which surround it. A studio with pools of natural light and areas of drama and contrast that accentuate the beauty of this precious light. A studio filled with desks, desks filled with the apparatuses that allow architecture to be enjoyed; pencils, markers of red and green, rolls of tracing paper and model making materials scattered all around. Chairs of which house the courses’ best kept secret; warm-hearted students. These people have become the making of our studies. These people are made of the stuff which will hopefully make friends for life. Friends who provide laughter, care and affection, help and support. Creativity thrives on these essential ingredients.

Trevor Jones’ blog.

I joined CAT as a mature student to finally fulfill my ambition to become an architect. Nine months on; I’m now designing a Wellness Centre on Hilbre Island off the Wirral Coastline. The initial source of inspiration was from the book “Liquid Assets” and the revival of Lidos. As an avid reader of Psychologies, I also discovered the 1960’s Esalen institute in the Big Sur California, where the therapeutic and exotic spa and massage culture came about. The challenge is to make the project self sufficient and sustainable with use of wind, wave and solar energy, but the idea is beginning to evolve typically in the Esalen mentality of self awareness by also creating a facility for naturists. Feedback from naturists or visitor of Esalen please or anything about the best spa experiences are gratefully received.


Summer school at CAT for the architecture Professional Diploma students

The summer school for the architecture Professional Diploma students has started this week at CAT. We will follow them and their impressions throughout the week.


Sean’s blog.

Hello, my name is Sean. I am currently one of the architecture Professional Diploma students here at CAT. I started the course last September and I am taking part in the August summer school. This particular module includes an extended period of major project design development, coupled with a timber construction practical. Today was the third consecutive studio day, which for myself, meant a tutorial in the morning, followed by the continued, evolution of my major thesis design project. This project represents the culmination of 5 years of architectural education and I have chosen to design a mixed use, sustainable development in the heart of Mexico city. Therefore, through confronting and dissecting the cultural, geographical and environmental uniqueness of such a site, I hope to use these studio days to implement an architecturally rich intervention.


Rebecca’s blog.

Hi, my name is Rebecca. The summer school at CAT is a brilliant opportunity to engage with visiting architects and professionals. Been able to sit in the WISE building at CAT for one whole week in certainly inspiring. My scheme “The Learning Society”, a project proposal based in Falmouth, is advocating an alternative approach to student accomodation, i.e. living and working with communities, encouraging a sense of responsibility (in all respects), and creating spaces that spark creativity. Sitting at my desk in the WISE building, I look across a beautifully proportioned internal courtyard, and I cannot help but get the dimensions using my tape measure. This will definitely feature in my scheme! The rain has been steadily pouring for the previous two days, and the timber gutters in the courtyard trickle a steady stream of water into recessed square ponds in the courtyards. Walking under the covered walkway to and from the rammed earth lecture theatre and restaurant, I am once again inspired by the range of sensuous experiences. In simplicity there is creativity. It seems I have all the inspiration I need for my project right here!

Architecture Summer School starts at CAT

From the 11th – 21st August the students studying for CAT’s Professional Diploma in Architecture will attend a Summer School to mark the end of the first 12 months of their 18 month long course. These students, who have all undertaken a Part I first degree in architecture elsewhere, will be examined for a Part II qualification in January 2012. Previous students of the Prof Dip course at CAT have since moved on to undertake Part III qualifications, which will allow them to register as Architects in the UK.

Watch a short video about last year’s Professional Diploma in Architecture Summer School here

The first five days of the Summer School will be spent in the WISE building where three rooms have been allocated as studio space. The students will be working on their Final Projects & will be producing drawings & models to discuss with a range of visiting tutors.

For the second five days the Summer School will move over to the other side of the Dyfi Valley, to CAT’s Coed Gwern woodland. Here the students will work on two live projects to be built from timber supplied by the local Esgair sawmill 500 m from the site. The two projects are to build a Hide for bird watching to be located in the woodland & a  temporary structure to be taken to the Shambala Festival at the end of August.

The Hide is to be substantial structure with a curved profile built up out of timber slats. The Shambala pavilion is a fabric-covered lightweight frame that will be dismantled to allow transportation to the Festival & then quickly re-erected by a team from CAT, including two of the Prof Dip


Both designs were produced during a one-day sketch design session in June & have been worked up over the last two months to allow materials to be ordered & preparations made.

You can follow the progress of the Summer School, including the construction of the two structures on this blog over the next 10 days.

Win a place at the CAT Conference 2011. Just answer one simple question

CAT fans, members, non-members, graduates and distance learning students:  this is your chance to join us for the 2011 CAT wide conference from 2nd to 4th September >>

This year promises to be bigger than ever, and over the weekend we’ll be:

-exploring the future of construction in a changing climate
-finding out about the latest developments in local energy provision
-investigating land-use options that will help create a zero carbon Britain

. . .  with some time left in the evening to ‘shake a leg’ with Welsh/Breton band “Kantref”

The winner will be invited to join in all activities and meals, with a free ticket to the Conference – valued at £125.

Before you answer the following question you may want a quick look at our Zero Carbon Britain report (hint: the 8-page summary is available for free download).

According to Zero Carbon Britain 2030 how many Giga-Watts of electricity can we capture using off-shore wind-farms?

(a) 33 GW


(c) 195 GW

Email your answer to (Closing date is the 19th August) – Please DO NOT post your answer up on any website as it will not be considered.

A break during the Zero Carbon Britain seminar

Terms and conditions

(a) Accommodation must paid for separately (only £25 for the whole weekend) (b) The winner will also receive CAT membership for a year (c) There is no cash alternative to this prize (d) The competition is open from the date it is posted online until 19th August 2011 (e) Current CAT employees may not participate in the competition (f) The winner will be announced on the CAT blog and members ebulletin (g) Facebook, Twitter and Google plus are not connected with this promotion in any way (h) There can only be one winner (i) The winner must be 18 years of age or over.

Summer Fair at the Centre for Alternative Technology

Over the last couple of days, CAT played host to the Taste of Summer fair, celebrating Welsh art, craft and food. Visitors enjoyed browsing a range of stalls, selling everything from beautifully printed bags made off organic textiles, to delicious cheeses, jams, and fudge. There was also the opportunity to have a go using a potter’s wheel or to blend a smoothie with bike-generated power.

Musicians were on hand to serenade the fair goers with traditional Uillean pipe and fiddle tunes, as well as Venezuelan guitar music.  Clement weather graced CAT on both festival days, and visitors sat about on lawns, benches, and picnic tables among the lush gardens to nibble snacks and enjoy the air.

Children with brightly-painted faces scampered among the fair goers, lightening up the atmosphere with their fantastical colors.

Another pop of color came from Aberystwyth artist Jude Riley’s marbled paper display, which showed the whole process of creating her marbled jewelry, journals, and art from blank paper to finished product.

Knottyburr Woodcrafts displayed a wall of handcrafted wooden clocks and candlesticks, some painted with fanciful designs. Here, a visitor peruses a table full of skeins and balls of natural Welsh sheep wool, possibly considering that the end of the summer is the perfect time to start thinking about knitting warm scarves and jumpers for the coming winter.

A high point of the fair was the Free Market, a special booth powered by donations where visitors could swap things they no longer wanted for something new, or could simply peruse the goods and take something home for free.  Katie, who ran the booth, said that she got the idea for a free market in Edinburgh, where she would set up free booths on big shopping days using the overflow from charity shops.  She said that people’s reaction to a free market are varied; some want to pay for the goods they take, whereas others get rather excited about the prospect of free stuff.  A free market, Katie says, really makes people think about the difference between what they want and what they need, and most visitors end up actually taking fewer items than if they had been asked to pay.  At the free market, there is less a sense of giving yourself an expensive “treat” and more a sense of finding the things you really need.  The best part is that everything at the booth was easily supplied through donations; goods ranged from faucets to lampshades to wool jumpers  to books to classic movies on VHS.

Another  highlight of the fair was the throw-your-own-pottery station, which drew a large crowd of onlookers every time a new visitor sat down to try to make a bowl out of wet, sticky clay on the spinning wheel.  Luckily, an experienced potter was on site to lend a helping hand.

At the Penypound jam booth, visitors sampled sweet treats such as cranberry and elderflower jam, mango chutney, rosemary jelly, damson port syrup, and lemon lime marmalade.  Penypound is a Welsh food festival regular, and prides itself on selling seasonal, local goods.

Flowers, veg, and herbs from the CAT grounds made for a lush, aromatic display.

The Co-op tables at the fair sponsored the popular cycle-powered smoothie, in addition to selling tasty welshcakes.

The Preseli Coffee company served up fair-trade coffee from Tanzania that has been roasted and ground right here in Wales.  They were excited to demonstrate the traditional methods of tamping the ground coffee and making a steamed-milk latte.

The Taste of Summer fair was a great success, for all the vendors and all the happy visitors.  A steady stream of people enjoyed the soft light and bustling atmosphere in the lovely WISE building.

Fair goers became involved in discussions and dialogues about the diverse presentations ranging from food security to knitting to diet choices to climate change.
Thank you to all who made it out to CAT for a Taste of Summer this year, and we hope to see you next year!

A Snapshot of Volunteering at CAT

Some arrived by train… some arrived by bike… all arrived with a desire to learn more about the inner workings of CAT and keen to experience the life of a volunteer here for 6 months. David Jennings has been thinking about volunteering at CAT for a long time, ever since he visited nearly 10 years ago: “If you want to learn about alternative technology, this is the place to be!”.

The would-be volunteers spend 4 days ‘trying out’ CAT, working with the departments that take their interest and learning about the day to day tasks that keep CAT ticking. Pablo has been trialling with the gardening team for the past 2 days. He wanted to experience what it was like to look after the gardens at CAT because “plants are magic!”.

And it’s not all based in the big outdoors; volunteers have also been trialling departments such as media and education, where people behind the scenes are working to promote the work of CAT and spread the word of how we can all live a more sustainable way of life.

Sophie has found the past few days a great experience to get a handle on the internal workings of CAT. She has been taken by the “sense of community on site and the diversity of tasks and personalities at play”.

See them all back in Septembre


Ecological building society’s 30th anniversary was celebrated in style here at CAT


Even the sun decided to join the celebrations for the EBS’s 30th anniversary on 4 and 5 June! As the light streamed into the rammed earth lecture theatre at WISE, over 160 people enjoyed two days of workshops, speeches and debates around building a greener society.

We were delighted to welcome Jean Lambert, Green Party MEP and former Chair of Ecology, as well as Directors, Board members and Chief Executives past and present, to the wonderful new facilities at the Centre for Alternative Technology. While the children escaped to explore the woodland and hills around Machynlleth, the adults were no less entertained by a range of engaging speakers.

Paul Allen, External Relations Director at CAT, began proceedings with a history of CAT and a powerful vision for zerocarbonbritain2030 – an ‘energy progressive’ society, free from fossil fuels. In the afternoon, Chris Herring, Chair of UK Passivhaus and Director of Green Build Store, made the case for Passivhaus low energy building, including a screening of Future Passiv, a short documentary featuring the Denby Dale Passivhaus project. Our keynote speech was delivered by Charlie Luxton, sustainable architectural designer and broadcaster, who outlined the urgent need to improve the energy efficiency of the nation’s housing stock, and took us on a tour of projects showing the practical ways to achieve this.

After a choice of member presentations and tours around the WISE and CAT sites, delegates enjoyed a celebration dinner, music and dancing with local celtic band Hi Jinx.

On Sunday morning members returned to majestic Sheppard Theatre to hear Pat Borer, WISE architect, explain the design principles behind this very special (and award-winning) venue. The final session took us back to the bigger picture, with a talk from carbon footprinting expert Mike Berners-Lee, asking How Bad Are Bananas? (The answer: not too bad, but air-freighted Peruvian asparagus is a carbon nightmare.)

In between sessions, delegates browsed our Green Market, with thirteen stalls ranging from renewables to woodwork and local crafts. We left CAT informed, inspired and energised for the next 30 years of building a greener society… here’s to our conference in 2041!


Couldn’t make it? Find out more here…


Teaching sustainable development and discovering solutions to global food problems

Ensuring the next generation are well equipped for the transition to a zero carbon future the Education department at CAT specialise in delivering Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) at all levels. From October 24th – 30th CAT Education are running short courses in communicating sustainability taking in a breadth of topics such as energy, buildings and food.

Teaching Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship from the 24th – 27th October is designed for teachers of key stage 2 – 3 showing how ESD can be applied in a school environment. The course looks at all issues surrounding sustainability with a strong emphasis on finding solutions to global problems. Participants will learn how to deliver informative, dynamic sessions on sustainable development and global citizenship, adapted to suit their specific subject.

El buey

Food for Thought from the 28th – 30th October looks more in depth at food sustainability and the effect our food production and consumption has on our environment and individual health. Aimed at educators and communicators this course delves into issues far beyond food miles and farting cows. This course is recommended for anyone who would like to deepen their understanding of food sustainability, and play a part in finding local solutions to global problems.

For a broader understanding of what the Education department at CAT gets up to, take a look at our resources page where you can download our teaching resources for free and Footprint Futures, a free online teaching resource for sustainable development useful as a full project or for fun activities on sustainability.

To book on a course please call 01654 704 952 or email You can also complete an online booking form on our  website.

There is also a 10% discount available to anyone booking with a friend or colleague, both will receive the discount, please mention ‘CAT blog’ when booking.

KE007S08 World Bank

CAT is building a giant flower in natural materials at Shambala festival – come in for a chat


CAT and Shambala have been working together for 3 years to produce the most detailed carbon audit of any UK event. This year CAT is teaming up with Shambala to demonstrate sustainable building to festivalgoers. As part of our shared commitment to sustainable futures (and having fun), the CAT team will be on-site showing what can be constructed with natural raw materials.

We are building a giant flower that offers space for festival goers to sit in, chat, relax and explore some of the principals of sustainable construction (see sketches below). The flower is accessible through a willow tunnel for those who like playing or following straw bale walls showing how natural building materials can be used to sequester carbon. The structure is being build by students on our sustainable architecture courses.

We are going to be around throughout the festival running workshops and on hand to answer your questions on sustainability and talk to people about our ground breaking project- Zero Carbon Britain. Pop in we would love to chat.



The annual mating of ants

Morning Everyone, While walking my dog last yesterday I found myself being bombarded by what seemed like thousands of flying ants. The annual occurence of this event takes place around this time of year when weather conditions are just right–temperature, humidity and wind all play a part and almost it seems, telepathically, ants from different colonies in a locality suddenly emerge to take part in what are known as nuptial flights.

These ‘flying’ ants are all males and fertile females (as opposed to infertile female workers)and the purpose of the flight is for mating to take place and for the mated females to set up new colonies. The trouble is that this is the first time these ants have ever flown and they are pretty much useless at it–hundreds of them crash land and perish or fly straight into trees and walls or get eaten by the many birds who can’t believe their luck at this sudden feast which has appeared.

Amazingly, mating takes place in the air! Now I don’t know about you but if I was an ant and was looking forward to my first (and also last) amorous encounter, surely some more congenial setting would be preferable than trying to perform the act while blundering through the air learning how to fly, dodging other crashing ants and trying to avoid being eaten by voracious birds. I think my performance would suffer to say the very least. Of course, as in most things in the natural world there is a reason for this apparently chaotic way of doing things– some matings are obviously successful and the mated queens are able travel some distance to start up new colonies.

Once mated and fertilised, the females descend to terra firma, remove their wings (by rubbing them against something) and burrow into the ground to lay their eggs and begin a new ant city–after their brief moment of heady freedom and membership of the ant world’s mile high club they will probably never see the light of day again for the rest of their relatively long lives, spending the rest of their alloted time producing eggs. As for the poor old males, well they all die more or less straight away although presumably those that have managed to do what a male ant’s gotta do, die with a big smile on their faces.