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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Sustainable Building Courses at CAT

One of the great things about the Centre for Alternative Technology is the sheer quantity of architectural and design features around the site.

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View from the Wigloo
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The funicular Cliff Railway
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Eco cabins

Indeed, it’s a rare treat to see modern design juxtaposed with the rugged Welsh landscape.

All of our buildings, old and young, demostrate how ecological design pays attention to both form and function.

These buildings serve as practical exhibits which show ways that ecological architecture and design take care of both the environment and wellbeing.

We run a number of courses which are connected to design and architecture,  varying from short courses on timber frame construction to a Professional Diploma in Architecture.

For more information about our short courses: https://courses.cat.org.uk/sustainable-building

and graduate level courses:

Sara is helping people gain access to land, with Agroecology

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Sara Tommerup is a graduate from the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT). Here she writes about the work she has been getting up to since graduating, including setting up the Agroecology Land Initiative.

Since 2006 I have apprenticed and learned about natural building in different parts of Europe and also in the US. In 2010 I decided to do the AEES course at CAT (now replaced with MSc Sustainability and Adaptation in the Built Environment) which complimented my hands-on training well. The course gave me the analytical tools to go deeper into the theory and engineering of sustainable building and the wider environmental issues. Due to my convictions I really appreciated to be able to study seriously in an environment removed from conventional campus life and I think this was one of the main reasons I chose CAT. Today there are many more study options when it comes to sustainable studies – but not at such a peaceful, environmental friendly and exemplary place as CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment.

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Sara’s son Johannes in the meadow. “Access to land should be a basic human right.”

I am now working as self-employed but continue to train to expand my skills and their applicability. I am originally from Denmark and now being in the UK I have picked up quite a few new natural building techniques which are traditional to this area, such as roundwood timber framing and stone walling. This year, I will be doing a stand-alone module on settlements and shelters in disaster areas which I hope to work with in the future, both as a trainer and a field worker. Having both practical as well as academic skills is something I can’t recommend enough!

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Working with round wood. Sara placing rafters on a little project in the Forest of Dean

Although building appropriately is important, I have realised that without land we can’t build anything nor choose the lifestyle we want. In 2014 I co-founded the Agroecology Land Initiative, an organisation with the aim to help people from all walks of life gain access to land. The ALI has so far set up its first land project in Carmarthenshire. Do have a look at agroecology.co.uk if you want to hear more about what we are up to. We also offer both short and long term volunteer opportunities.

My MSc thesis was not about building but rather on adaptive co-management in regards to social ecological systems. What I learnt from my thesis has served me well as it enabled me to understand how complex our world is and how we are better off creating societies that are adaptable instead of rigid and attempting control. I am therefore really pleased to see that the AEES course has adapted into its new form, namely the Sustainability and Adaptation MSc, a course that seems ready to take us further still.

An opportunity awaits – students as drivers for change

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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.

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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.

 

 

Two Architecture Events at CAT 5th – 18th May

Two Architecture Events are taking place at CAT in May as part of the Wales Festival of Architecture. An exhibition will take place 5th – 18th May whilst Architect Ceri Davies will speak about her work on Tuesday 10th May.

The WISE building at CAT where the events will take place Photo: Tim Soar

Exhibition: Added Dimension

5th – 18th May | Visitor Centre open daily 10am – 5pm
WISE Foyer, Centre for Alternative Technology
Click for visitor centre prices and further information

Exhibition showing the work of local architects’ practices, highlighting the special contributions that Chartered Architects make to this community and to civic life.

Talk: Ceri Davies, AHMM Architects

Tuesday 10th May | 7pm
WISE Lecture Theatre, Centre for Alternative Technology
Includes an evening opportunity to view the Added Dimension exhibition

Ceri Davies Photo: AHMM

Holyhead-born Architect at Stirling Prize-winning firm AHMM Ceri Davies will discuss her work. Ceri’s wide-ranging project experience includes the successful competition bids for Walsall Bus Station, Kentish Town Health Centre, the refurbishment of Grade II listed Royal Court Theatre Liverpool and a mixed-use student accommodation scheme along Regent’s Canal in King’s Cross for Urbanest. Her strengths lie in formulating ideas grounded in place and purpose at concept stage and ensuring these are built upon during the life of a project. Recent and current projects include the White Collar Factory at Old St Yard and the fit-out proposals for Google HQ.

Renewable energy teaching at CAT

In response to feedback and demand from potential students, CAT is starting a process of reviewing how we deliver renewable energy teaching in our Graduate School of the Environment. As a result we will not be taking new intakes of students onto the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment (REBE) course as it is currently structured.

Over the next year we will be developing a new Masters course in renewable energy which will build on the success of our Masters courses in Sustainability and Adaptation and which we expect to start in September 2017. Existing REBE students will be able to complete the rest of their course.

Application numbers for CAT’s other Graduate School courses in Sustainability and Adaptation and the Professional Diploma in Architecture continue to grow and these courses are unaffected by these changes.

In addition to delivering the REBE course for existing students, CAT continues to deliver education on renewable energy as part of our Sustainability and Adaptation Masters courses, in our successful short courses programme and as a central theme in engagement with school groups and visitors.

 

Sir John Houghton Bursary for CAT graduate school

Sir John Houghton, former co-chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Scientific Assessment Working Group and former Chief Executive of the Met Office, has made a donation of £60,000 to the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) to create an annual bursary for a student beginning one of the Masters courses at the Graduate School of the Environment.

CAT’s mission is to inspire, inform and enable people with practical solutions for sustainability. Our Graduate School offers a range of postgraduate programmes including MSc Sustainability and Adaptation, MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment and a Part II Architecture programme.

A bursary of £4,500 will be awarded annually to a promising student who demonstrates that they have an excellent academic record and a passion for tackling climate change.

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Sir John Houghton has had an illustrious career as one of the world’s most eminent climate scientists, and is a long term supporter of CAT’s work. On making the donation, he said:

“I have spent a lifetime studying the atmosphere and the climate and latterly have been concerned with the reality of human induced climate change. I now want to help the next generation tackle this serious problem, possibly the biggest the world faces.”

Adrian Ramsay, CAT Chief Executive said:

“CAT is extremely honoured to receive this donation from Sir John Houghton, someone who has made such as great contribution to our understanding of climate change. CAT now has more than one thousand alumni working across industry, government and academia who are collectively implementing the changes that society needs to make to tackle climate change. This award will enable more people to join them and drive forward the solutions that enable humanity to rise to this challenge.”

The closing date for applications for the 2016 award is Sunday 26th June.

For terms and conditions and an application form, please see the bursaries page.

Student open space day tackles barriers to Zero Carbon Britain

Students from the Centre for Alternative Technology’s (CAT’s) Graduate School of the Environment held an interactive Open Space day to discuss barriers to bringing about a rapid transition to a low carbon economy. The outcomes of the day are being fed into the Zero Carbon Britain – Making it Happen research currently being undertaken by CAT.

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The open space style of the event meant the day started with 40 people but no agenda. The participants came up with and held 16 smaller group discussions on a diverse range of topics during the day. This 2-minute film gives a flavour of the day.

The 16 discussions covered a broad range of topics, but the structure of the day allowed each session to be focused, and useful for developing the research. Topics covered included:

  • Reaching a wider audience, including reaching out within workplaces
  • Using the resources of new build property developers and retrofitting existing buildings
  • Community energy, and how you create strong community groups
  • Political action, both local and wider
  • Creating an inclusive movement, that is founded on equality and diversity
  • Looking at a more individual level, at setting personal goals, behaviour change, valuing resources and handling both ‘eco-guilt’ and bad news on climate change
  • Values and learning from nature
  • Having a hopeful vision that inspires us

If you are interested about finding out more about CAT’s next research project, you can read about Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen initial findings online, or come along to our short course on the 28-29th April, which is just before the Machynlleth Comedy Festival, meaning you can combine the two for a stimulating long weekend in Machynlleth.

Andrew is challenging the conventional role of the architect

Andrew Lees studied MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies at CAT (this course has now been replaced with MSc Sustainability and Adaptation in the Built Environment). He graduated in November 2015, and I took the opportunity to catch up with him and speak about his experience on the course.

Andrew receiving his graduation scroll

Kit Jones: What was your background before this course, and why did you decide to study at CAT?

Andrew Lees: I’m an architect, and I signed up to the course wanting to do more green architecture. I was surprised by the diversity of other people on the course when I first started – people form all different walks of life and not just Architecture, even though there is a lot about buildings in the course. It has led to some good conversations because people have very different experience to bring.

I suppose I felt I wasn’t living up to my own expectations about what I wanted to be doing, as an Architect. I wanted to be able to diversify the work I could do.

KJ: Have you been able to do that? Have you been able to use what you have learned?

AL: I’m still in the same job, but it has definitely made a difference. I feel I have more in depth knowledge and I am more able to talk to clients, contractors and other consultants about sustainable options for buildings.

In a broader sense, I have also been able to flesh out my concept of what an architect is – or should be. It would be useful if everyone else had the same view! People have a very boxed in view of what an architect should be. As buildings get more complex architects have become coordinators rather than thinkers; we have deferred to engineers on how the building functions. This course makes you more of a thinker. So now I want to be able to lead that more. I’m about to apply for a job in a higher position, which I think would give me more freedom to do that. Part of my intention is to strike out on my own one day.

KJ: What was the experience of studying at CAT like?

AL: It has a totally unique atmosphere – that was the draw in the first place. I have definitely been challenged by it. I’m not a natural scientist; I got by, but I found scientific essays challenging. In conventional architecture education the emphasis is not on scientific writing. So I had to get my head around things like rigorous citation and brevity. I would say I enjoyed being a scientist though – I’ve discovered the joy and creativity of scientific discovery!

KJ: What did you do for your thesis?

AL: I used computer simulation to look at insulation in solid wall, terraced housing. I was coming at the issue from two angles – bringing together the technical issue of building fabric improvement and the human one of thermal comfort standards, questioning the usual standards. I explored the energy and carbon savings of varying the thickness of insulation at different internal temperature set points, and forecasting how likely it was that occupants would be comfortable at these temperatures.