Celebrate with CAT’s architects of the future

CAT’s Architecture Professional Diploma students celebrate the end of their studies with a private view of their work and a party at CAT on 20th January.

This unique event invites industry VIPs, students, local people and friends of CAT to view the final projects of these up-and-coming architects after 18 months of intensive study. Transforming study rooms into exhibition spaces their inspirational designs and models will be available to view with the students themselves on-hand to talk guests through their visions. This will be a unique insight into the ideas of the architects of our future. Continue reading “Celebrate with CAT’s architects of the future”

Self-Build Architecture and the Housing Crisis at Glastonbury 2016

A team of CAT’s Part II architecture students and tutors are building part of a house to take to ‪‎Glastonbury‬ Festival this week; using it to look at practical solutions to the housing crisis. The project builds on work that CAT’s joint architecture programme leader Ed Green has been developing for more than five years, winning a series of national design competitions looking at construction systems for affordable housing.

glasto1 (3)

Ed Green said:

“We have developed a series of designs using shipping containers, structurally insulated panels, steel portal frames and straw bales. The slightly surprising and disappointing thing we have found is that all of those approaches generally result in building housing that costs about the same money as volume house builders – around 70,000-100,000 pounds per house… We have decided that the only way to make meaningful inroads into those costs is to look at genuinely self-buildable housing. So our latest designs look at stripping a house back to the absolute basics, building it all in timber, using skills people can learn very quickly and using materials they can get off the shelf.”

Construction is underway this week and will begin on site at Glastonbury on Monday. If you are at Glastonbury, come and find us in the Green Futures Field. Here is a video about the project:

The timber frame is now up and the team have moved on to constructing the floor and roof:

 

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.

Rammed Earth Vault – a world first?

I have spent time over the last couple of months building a vault out of un-stabilised in-situ rammed earth.  Without known precedent, it is believed to be a world first.  Although there is a pre-cast example built in Austria by students under the supervision of Martin Rauch, there are significant challenges relating to the in-situ construction process that I was testing.  The vault is a 1:5 mock-up of part of my Final Major Project proposal for sustainable Greenbelt Development outside Edinburgh.

IMG_1836

The full size vault would be 11 metres wide and 9.5 metres tall at its highest point and extends 20 metres to form an open air hall aimed to encourage a respect for the earth that we rely on to grow food and that can also provide another of our basic needs: shelter.  It would also be occasionally used for events relating to the small scale, sustainable farm work that takes place on the rest of the site.

The principle behind the rammed earth vault lies in the structural properties of rammed earth, which has significant compressive strength but cannot withstand tensile stress.  When flipped to form an arch, a catenary curve – following the path of a chain as it hangs in tension from two fixed points – creates a structure that is entirely in compression.  Whilst the structural principle is ancient and simple, the construction implications of angled ramming and formwork design were unable to be proven possible until the removal of the formwork. The revealing of the finished vault on the 16th of December was witnessed by CAT students from across the REBE, SA and Prof Dip courses.

I would like to put out a huge thank you to the staff and long list of students who helped me and to Rowland Keable, whose advice on the removal of formwork (which can be a risky procedure) was invaluable.

Here is a video showing the formwork being removed:

 

This blog is by Tasha Aitken, a final year student on the Professional Diploma in Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies course; the Part II Architecture course at CAT.

 

#SeeMeJoinMe Women in sustainable construction – a week with the Architecture Part II’s

Gemma Temlett is a student on the Professional Diploma in Architecture (Part II) programme at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT). Here she reports on the March module, gives a flavour of why studying at CAT is so special. She also talks about what the group is doing to support the #SeeMeJoinMe campaign to promote gender equality in the construction industry. 

We started the March week a couple of days early with a trip to Wolves, the context of our current design project. The aim was to get to grips with the city and Claire our heroic driver was first up, put to the test of navigating off Wolverhampton’s formidable ring road on the way to our first stop, a local Passivhaus school by Architype. While we had various visits planned in and around the city, we booked out a national trust bunk house in the surrounding countryside and set to work making giant pizzas and working on our presentations to be made on Monday. We turned the bunk house into our studio, Andy working away on his 1:200 models and the rest of us working on our laptops, in an industrious buzz around the big dining table.

Architecture students spinning pizza
Mario and Luigi spinning the pizza bases at the bunkhouse

Over the weekend we explored the house at Whitewick Manor, a fully furnished example of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and inspected it’s Victorian heat recovering ventilation system while taking in the Pre-Raphaelite art collection. It was a soggy Sunday measuring up the amended site boundary and a chat with the client before we headed to CAT.

It being International Women’s Day, another task for our Sunday on site had been to take a picture representing Women in Construction. Fellow student Kirsty Cassels had raised earlier the RIBA campaign to drive out gender inequality in the industry #SeeMeJoinMe. Immediately keen to partake, with my recent memories of taking my CV into offices and choking on the aftershave, we planned to complete the task in the week. CAT actively encourages women to work in male dominated trades and buildings scattered around the site were built by Cindy Harris, CAT’s builder for 17 years.

Monday was a day split into two groups for catching up on our project progress and marked presentations to hone our communication skills. Many an exCAT student that has come to lecture has renewed our confidence in the grooming process. Our group was tutored for the day by course tutors Trish Andrews and Pat Borer.

Trish in her Part 1 in the late 1980s at Strathclyde University had her own inspiring female tutor, Krystyna Johnson. One of the founders of the Scottish Ecological Design Association, Krystyna Johnson had been involved in Glasgow in the tenement improvement program, public participation in the 70s and pioneering architectural services within a community based housing association in Glasgow. James Irvine’s post from the October week talks about community participation and Ceinws where Trish was instrumental in forming a Community Land Trust.

After the last presentation of the day was given we breathed a sigh of satisfaction mixed with relief and caught up with the Masters students in the bar.

Lectures kicked off on Tuesday with a brilliant start. Lucy Jones talking on energy flows and thermal mass, former director of Earth building UK with a wealth of practical knowledge.

Dr. Lucy Jones at CAT
Dr. Lucy Jones in the rammed earth lecture theatre (image: Paulo Santos)

The next day was an air-tightness and thermal imaging marathon with Diane Hubbard, a former CAT student. This was a hands on session, checking the WISE building for thermal bridges. We moved to the self build accommodation to de-pressurise the whole building and watched as the cold air poured in the leaks! Diane helped us make sense of small signs that could be misinterpreted.

Dianne Hubbard Thermal Image
Thermal image of Diane Hubbard, demonstrating the deceptive effect of a sheet of glass (image: James Nolan)

This week there were Masters students weaving in and out of our days doing thesis tutorials and presentations from past modules. A few of them courageously chose to do their presentations in the main lecture theatre and invited us along. This is the enjoyable flexibility that is CAT. Another MSC student and untapped source of PV expertise, Corneila Peike, shared with us a short talk on design opportunities with PVs, on her last module at CAT.

Duncan Clarke Explains Timber Frame Principles
Planning for Thursday in the courtyard (image: Andy Hales)

Thursday had arrived, finally! We started on our timber frame building that brought with it the satisfaction of learning by doing, getting grubby and the feeling of real hunger at the end of the day. Our team is working on the sandwich frame, using OSB sheathing to stiffen the two 95 x 50 timbers, creating a stronger box shaped beam. From the relative comfort of the Pole barn we watched the tenacious team building the Segal method frame in the rain. They quietly finished in a few hours and dispersed while others chiselled away into the night.

Timber Frame construction stop frame animation by James Irvine

Architecture part II timber frame
Flipping of the sandwich frame (image: Andy Hales)

The guest lecturer in the evening was Pippa Goldfinger from the Frome independent council, ifF. Pippa’s inspirational presentation was on the fun-loving council’s people-lead processes and achieving sustainable solutions for the town.

Pippa Goldfinger from ifF
Pippa Goldfinger from ifF at CAT (image: Paulo Santos)

CAT brings together amazing people, gathered round the dining tables or coffee in-between lectures. We get to pick their brains and the practical, experimental nature of the people involved creates such a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere for sharing.

Fellow student Catrin organised the Friday night. Traditional Welsh cuisine from our much loved kitchen, music and fun was thrown together in our own mini CAT Eistedfodd, a Welsh celebration of the arts.

At the end of the week I jumped at the chance to get to know North Wales a little more with some classmates, partners and friends. Our trip ended in Felin Uchaf, an educational centre for young people, community, natural heritage and more that had brought some of our classmates together to build, years before the course at CAT.

Fellow student Kirsty Cassels at Felin Uchaf, Llyn peninsula
Fellow student Kirsty Cassels to the right of the crown post at Felin Uchaf, Llyn peninsula (image: www.felinuchaf.org)

Spot the Women in Construction photos?

–> See more blogs from Part II Architecture students at CAT 

Cities, Snow and Celebration: The first Professional Diploma in Architecture module of 2015

Paolo Santos is a student on the Professional Diploma in Architecture course at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT). Here he blogs on the first module of 2015, giving a flavour of what it is like to be a student on one of the postgraduate programmes at CAT.

Due to family commitments and last minute essay writing I couldn’t make it to CAT for the usual Sunday evening cwtch (Welsh for hugs) sessions, although thought it a nice surprise for fellow Professional Diploma in Architecture (ProfDips) if I turned up for breakfast instead.

January is going to be a challenge. The weather is now wintery and it was snowing over the Aberhosan pass from Llanidloes; a treacherous route through the winter months. Nevertheless, I make it to CAT in good time not to miss breakfast. The North drive has turned into a river. Note to self, ‘always wear they right gear’. The weather is always unpredictable in the Welsh Mountains. I got my feet wet walking up to the WISE building but received a warm welcome with lots of cwtches, which makes all the difference.

sustainable architecture
WISE student building in the snow

Sundays and Monday are always the day for us fourth year students. Hardly anyone from the other courses are around till Tuesday, which means more time for us all to get reacquainted and catch up. Monday we were introduced to a marathon seminar on Design Methodology by David Lea and Patrick Hannay, which delves into the process driven rational. We begin discussing architecture, I’m almost in heaven. The evening ends with the film ‘The Fountainhead’ 1949, based on the novel by Ayn Rand, about a young architect who chooses to struggle through individualism rather than compromise his vision of architecture and give in to the collectivists.

Tuesday brought snow, we start by handing in our essays and practical written pieces. For the first session of the day we join a MSc Lecture on Transformation by Elizabeth Shove. After coffee we hear from Peter Harper, one of the early pioneers of CAT, who coined term ‘alternative technology’. This guy is good! In this video he gives a great explanation of how it got set up. Lunch is my favourite, the Michael ‘burger’.

In the afternoon we have another Design Methodology sessions. This time we discuss the process of the Jewish Museum extension in Berlin by Daniel Libeskind at length. I suggest further reading of Between the Lines in Architecture in Transition, published by Prestel. Patrick Hannay ends the day with an architectural lecture delivered to all at CAT.

Wednesday, felt as if all was back to a normal schedule of shared lectures with the MSc Sustainability and Adaptation course. This month the module is all about cities and communities. The first lecture was from Mike Reardon, a guest lecturer who talked about Barriers to Change; Karen Potter, another guest lecturer, then followed with a lecture on local authority planning, talking about what needs to change and how. After lunch, Jane Fisher, who is a resident lecturer at CAT, ran sessions on open spaces in the city, green infrastructure & the Urban Heat Island. The day is topped by 2 lectures by Peter Harper. The first is on Decarbonisation: household to community. After tea Peter introduces us to an amusing informal talk on his gardening techniques.

In the meantime in the background, the 5th year architecture students have been pinning up their final year projects to be assessed by the external examiner today. Gulp! One year to go! Hope all goes well for them, sure it will, nice bunch.

seminar
Seminar style

On Thursday, we are joined by Dr Ian Taylor a guest lecturer at CAT and director of Transport for Quality of Life. He gives an interesting talk on Sustainable Transport. The second session is on Post Carbon Cities, with David Rudlin of Urbed. After lunch both Ian and David lead the practical on ‘Designing an integrated urban environment’. Models like Vauban in Freiburg in Germany are mention throughout the course of the module. Using the knowledge we learned earlier in the day, we split into groups to design a sustainable housing and transport infrastructure for Peterborough’s, I’m loving this week.

burns night

singingperformance

Friday, is another site visit for our next project in Wolverhampton. This is very much a real project, with real constraints and a real client whom essentially needs ideas in which to develop an existing organisation/building/site. Our client faces a common nationwide situation, in which the Local Authority has reduced its previous support and funding. So we need to put everything we have learned at CAT so far into this scheme. Today is also exhibition day for the 5th years, open to all. We arrive back at base in time for a special tea, as its January we are celebrating Burns Night early, light entertainment is provided by several of the students, with song and dance by John, Helen and Tasha followed by a recital of a Burns poem in German by Cornelia. This is sadly last supper at CAT for the 5th years, and the world is their oyster. Friday night social begins with the bar open and Pat Borer (co-architect of the WISE building) in The Street Band, who play the night away as we wave goodbye to the 5th years.

Saturday, is a sobering ninth and final lecture of the week with Jane Fisher on Urban Ecology. We have a final meet with Duncan, the course leader, on setting up a brief for the Wolverhampton project and then it is all over. A quick lunch and off we set across the white landscape home.

If there is a song that could describe how I felt at CAT this January week it will be Sia’s Elastic heart.

Pat Borer
The Street Band: Evening Entertainment

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

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.