Here are some nice things the architecture press said about us not making the Stirling prize shortlist

The Guardian’s architecture correspondent Rowan Moore said:

Then there’s the Wales Institute of Sustainable Education by Pat Borer and David Lea, a work of ingenuity and rammed earth in an old slate quarry. Its inclusion would have been an opportunity to recognise architects outside the London orbit of fashion and schmoozery.

Jay Merrick writing in the Independent said

Yet there was no place for serious environmental architecture, in the form of Pat Borer and David Lea’s universally praised Wise Building at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales.

Oliver Wainwright writing in the Telegraph commented:

It seems the Stirling Prize has become about paying lip service to the safe and generic, rather than celebrating the truly innovative or joyful. Where is the fun of MVRDV’s Balancing Barn, or the drama of Foster & Partners’ Faustino winery, or the experimental ingenuity of David Lea and Pat Borer’s Wise building at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales?

The WISE display – explaining the choice of the different building materials used for the construction of WISE

WISE is an evolution of all the buildings at CAT and this display shows the different building materials used for the construction of WISE and the reason for the choice of these materials.

Did you know that 50% of the UK’s carbon footprint comes from constructing, using and maintaining buildings?  We have monitored the energy used in construction from the energy it takes to extract raw materials right down to the fuel used by the builders getting to work. Now that the building is open, we are monitoring all the energy required to use and maintain it so we can look at ways to shrink the carbon footprint of buildings in the future.

Cement, for example, has very high embodied energy so we have used lime instead wherever possible. Most of the foundations use lime concrete (limecrete), and where standard concrete is needed for its strength, we’ve replaced 50% of the cement with ground upblast furnace slag, which is a by-product of the iron and steel industry. The building is also rendered with lime.

The main lecture theatre inside WISE is made in rammed earth. Earth wall provide good thermal mass, helping to even out high and low temperatures by absorbing and releasing heat as temperatures change. Earth has an extremely low embodied energy (i.e. the energy it has taken to make something) and is often produced as a quarry waste material.)

All the exterior walls are made of a hemp and lime mix. The lime based binder is mixed with the hemp fibres and water. This mix is then sprayed around the timber frame. Hemp and lime walls are breathable, air tight and provide excellent insulation without the need for standard insulation techniques.


Radio 4 afternoon play “getting to zero”. A play based on CAT’s report Zero Carbon Britain

Click here to listen to the play on BBC iPlayer

GETTING TO ZERO By Sarah Woods With George Monbiot, Paul Allen and Peter Harper.
Have you got what it takes to get to zero carbon? Our expert panel set one average family the task of eliminating their carbon footprint… and living with the consequences. Originally broadcast in March 2009.

Sue ….. Kate Ashfield Ian ….. Don Gilet Chloe ….. Poppy Lee Friar Jack ….. Ryan Watson Bill ….. Malcolm Tierney Meter ….. Jonathan Tafler Narrator ….. Janice Acquah Delivery Man ….. Stephen Hogan
Producer/Director: Jonquil Panting.

The green schools revolution: a chance for Key Stage 2 pupils to visit CAT and learn about sustainability

Schools across the UK have been invited to participate in the  Green Schools Revolution, a project initiated by the Cooperative. The project aims to inspire young people to make sustainable changes to their schools, homes and communities. One of the benefits of registering to take part on this project is schools can receive a free trip to CAT during the week 7th – 11th November for key stage 2 pupils. At CAT we will be running workshops for the schools, helping to broaden pupils’ understanding of sustainability, and suggesting easy to initiate solutions to environmental problems. The workshops have been designed to complement the three themes suggested by the Coop – healthy living, energy and water.

Green Schools Revolution

Food Footprints supports healthy living and will be a wide investigation into the food we eat, pupils will discover how a climate friendly diet can also be better for your health. The Green House  takes a deeper look at energy in the home with an interactive decision making activity allowing pupils to choose their own lifestyle changes whilst reducing CO2 emissions. Water Footprints looks at everyday products and how they impact on our water consumption and production.

The day will complete with an Eco Quest around CAT taking in various demonstrations and exhibits, with investigative challenges along the way. One of our primary educational aims at CAT is to facilitate the uptake of knowledge and skills for building a sustainable future, so pupils, teachers and visitors can leave a visit to CAT feeling empowered and able to make changes they feel necessary in their own school, workplace, home and community.


Our work in the education department reflects this and we are always looking at new ways to communicate and facilitate the uptake of sustainability through interesting, dynamic projects. If you are interested in talking to us about any of our on-going projects, or you have a project you would like to let us know about, drop us an email

The whole house display – how much electricity do your appliances actually use?

There is a lot of emphasis on reducing the energy consumption of our houses,  but sometimes it is difficult to know exactly which appliance uses more or less energy. Which ones make the biggest difference?

This display is a representation of a whole house equipped with common appliances, each appliance has a button that allows you to turn it on or off. the total energy used for the house in Watts (in red on the picture) is displayed at the top of the display. In green numbers show the cost per hour of the current settings as well as the cost per quarter.

This display thus allows you to play with different appliances and find out which ones use more or less electricity, which ones make a noticeable difference on your electricity bill.

In this house, the radio is the appliance that uses the least power while the shower is the one using the most electricity.



The oscillating water column or how waves can generate electricity

This display shows how waves can be used to generate power. In this set up, you can pull on the rope to move the blue weight up and down, thus displacing water and producing waves. The waves then force air through the turbine, making it spin. The spinning turbine powers the generator, which produces electricity.

This technology can be applied to capture the energy of ocean waves and transform it into useful energy in large scale set up. There are many different types of wave power devices, which are categorised by the method used to capture the energy of the waves. This display shows the method known as oscillating water column

Solar panels – how much energy do they produce? is tracking the sun necessary?

This display is a movable solar panels that allows you to see how much energy is produced by solar panels based on what angle the sun is hitting on them.

Move the panel to face the sun to see how much electricity the PV cells generate. You can also touch the black area to feel how the sunlight has turned into heat.

You can then explore how much energy is lost when the solar panel is not at the optimal angle with regard to the sun.



The Watt bike. Showing you how much energy is needed to power everyday appliances


This display allows you to feel how much power is actually needed to power a selection of everyday appliances, like a 20 Watt light bulb, a 50 Watt computer or a 120 Watt TV set.

By selecting which appliance you want to generate power for and then turn the handles (hand cranks or feet pedals) as fast as possible until the light turns on, you can actually feel how much energy is needed to power your appliances. Start off easy with the light bulb, working your way up to the TV set. You can also work with another person to make it easier.

The everlasting PV pump – our oldest display showing how solar panels work even on a cloudy day

This display is one of the oldest one on site. It has been running for over 20 years without replacing the solar panels. It shows how solar panels use light from the sun to make electricity. They will work in daylight, whatever the weather. But as you might expect, they don’t work nearly as well on cloudy days.


The pump is powered by the electricity produced by the PV panels you can see. This display offers you the possibility to use the “clouds” to see what happens when you reduce the amount of sunlight hitting the PVs.


PVs produce power any time there is daylight. On cloudy or rainy days, power is still produced from whatever light is available. The capacitors in this pump store the energy produce by the PVs until there is enough for one stroke of the pump. On a rainy day it will run now and then but on a sunny day, it will run all the time.


Meet the Display Department and learn how CAT’s visitor circuit comes to life


This week, we will follow the Display Department at CAT and learn how the visitor circuit comes to life.  We will also look at a few specific displays currently on the visitor circuit, their stories and purposes .

The Display Department’s work is informed by the Display Group. The Display Group is a consensus decision making group that consists of representatives of several CAT’s departments who use the Display Circuit, as part of the visitor experience.

Members of the Display Group are:


  • Information representative
  • Education representative
  • Engineering representative
  • Display Gardeners
  • Display department
  • Biology representative
  • Fundraising representative

In addition to these core members, staffs with specific knowledge, skills or interest in particular displays
can input into the groups decision making process. This ranges from the Visitor Centre Marketing department or Courses department to External Relations, Fundraising, Innovation and Zero Carbon Britain.

The Display Department is then tasked with taking forward all the recommendations and needs of these group constituents, in order to design, co-ordinate and ultimately create a display that meets all requirements. Since the needs of these members is so diverse, this can be quite a challenge!

So what you see on the Display Circuit is most often the result of deep thinking and hard work.