CAT architecture students suggest ways to put sustainability at the heart of Birmingham


Students from the Centre for Alternative Technology’s Graduate School of the Environment last week revealed their designs for the proposed regeneration of a site near Birmingham’s Custard Factory. Developer Lucan Gray chose to use CAT students to help put sustainability at the heart of his proposals.

The corner site in Digbeth may eventually be developed into a dynamic entrance to Birmingham’s creative quarter. The Custard Factory, which today houses boutiques, artists’ studios and other small and medium sized businesses has been gradually redeveloped in recent years, transforming what was once the home of Bird’s custard-making operation into a creative hub.

Built by Sir Alfred Frederick Bird, son of the inventor of egg-free custard, the site lay empty after the custard production moved to Banbury in 1964. The redevelopment of the site by Benny Gray and son Lucan has sought to re-invigorate the area, aiming to create around a thousand jobs by the project’s completion.

Central to the operation has been re-casting the industrial legacy of the area ­ what was once a loading bay is now a lake at the heart of the complex. The site, with its stunning historic buildings, provides exciting opportunities for renovation and conversion, a core concern for the students, whose studies are focused on sustainable architectural practice. Utilising the existing buildings in creative ways, the students proposed ideas for developing the area in an integrated, cohesive manner.

Situated as it is a mere ten minutes away from the Bullring, Birmingham’s premier shopping destination, the proposals will also explore ways that the site can be used to engender an economic alternative to out-of-control consumerism.

The students visited the site in February 2012 and carried out a survey, returning on the 14th of May to exhibit their project designs at the Lake Gallery in the Custard Factory. The event was attended by prominent architect Glenn Howells, his staff, local architects and Custard factory tenants.

The semi live project gives the students an opportunity to become familiar with the concerns of the developer, the local community and wider considerations based in reality. This is vital, as building designers/clients often misinterpret local needs and these are usually fairly mixed with some conflicting ambitions, and are set against a backdrop of global concerns, so it’s a very useful way for the students to start to pick their way through local politics, funding issues, local and regional concerns.

Lucan Gray said that he was extremely impressed by the designs and was astounded at the breadth and difference in the students design approach. He was very happy to see a sustainability approach in design. The students thoroughly enjoyed presenting their work especially having a real live project and client involved the design project.

CAT hope to continue to collaborate with the Custard Factory as a view to integrating art and media as vehicles of education to encourage people to live more sustainable lifestyles.

Discover a new Wales at the Welsh Living Landscape Festival Sunday 29th and Monday 30th May – 10am to 17.30pm

Visitors are being invited to discover a new Wales at the Welsh Living Landscape Festival, May 29th-30th.

This vibrant and informative weekend event, which is open from 10am to 5.30pm on both days, is packed with fun activities, workshops, arts, talks and entertainment for all the family.

Local experts will bring the local landscape alive, explaining its geology and the fascinating history that has shaped it. From farming to forestry, slate quarries to sustainable building, visitors will be able to experience the magic of the Welsh landscape through new eyes.If you’ve ever wanted to explore the varied and wondrous ecosystems around us and to find out about the people who depend on them, this is your opportunity.

Grace Crabb, Ecologist and woodland manager at CAT said:
“Landscapes are incredibly important in Wales. How we manage our landscapes it vital to our rural economy and is also vital to protecting the incredible biodiversity we have here. We’re putting on the Living Landscapes Festival to help the public understand the unique landscapes we have here”

Julie Bromilow, Education Officer at CAT said:
“It’s vital that we begin to understand how landscapes might change as we adapt to climate change. The Living Landscapes festival is all about helping people explore what landscapes mean to them and why they are important”

CAT shortlisted for the prestigious Ashden Awards. CAT’s courses in renewable energy and sustainability shortlisted for sustainable energy award

The Centre for Alternative Technology has been shortlisted for the prestigious Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy

CAT’s courses in renewable energy and sustainability have been recognised as a vital part of moving the UK towards a low carbon future by the judges of the Ashden Awards.

Paul Allen, Outreach Director at CAT said: “Being shortlisted for the Ashden Awards is a huge honour. Our educational and training programmes in renewable energy and energy efficiency are vitally important as we move to a low carbon society. We are delighted that the Ashden Award judges have recognised this and shortlisted CAT.”

CAT has been shortlisted for the award in recognition of its education and training work. The centre runs courses aimed at training people in the skills the country will need to make the transition to sustainable energy. These cover a variety of renewable energy technologies and sustainable building techniques, and take place in CAT’s newly-constructed Wales Institute for Sustainable Education.

CAT’s postgraduate programmes cover renewable energy and sustainable building techniques. They are designed for professionals wanting to work in the development of renewable energy and sustainable building projects, and combine both theoretical and practical components. CAT’s renewable energy postgraduate course covers all renewable energy technologies. During the course students work on real, functioning renewable energy installations that power the teaching facilities at CAT.

CAT’s unique sustainable architecture course covers both the theory and practice of sustainable building. Students gain hands-on experience working with low impact building materials such as earth, hemp and clay. CAT’s postgraduate students leave able to gain employment in a wide variety of sustainability, ecological building and renewables projects.

CAT also runs courses for plumbers and electricians to gain the qualifications they need to become renewable energy installers. CAT is one of the few places in the country where people can come and learn to install solar water heating, solar electric and wood heating systems.

The WISE building wins the RIBA award

The Centre for Alternative Technology has been awarded a prestigious architecture award for the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education.

The judges said: “The word ’sustainability’ is frequently used; this project not only lives up to the Centre’s mission but does so with a quiet confidence. Many such buildings flaunt their green credentials; this building doesn’t and is a delight as a result.”

CAT’s External Relations Director Paul Allen said: “Winning such a prestigious award shows that sustainable building methods are breaking into the mainstream. The WISE building demonstrates many cutting edge low energy building techniques and we are delighted that the RIBA have recognised CAT’s pioneering approach to architecture by giving us this award.”

The purpose of CAT’s WISE building is to provide thousands of people the opportunity to learn about environmental topics, from organic gardening to renewable energy and green architecture, in an inspiring environment.

The WISE building features many innovative sustainability features. Throughout the construction, low embodied building materials such as earth and hemp were used. Building materials have been sourced locally; the rammed earth lecture theatre is made using soil from a nearby disused quarry. The building has energy-efficient glazing to enhance natural day lighting and passive heat gain, making energy requirements minimal. Every stage of construction was monitored to calculate the environmental footprint – from the materials used to the daily journey to work made by those working on WISE. Environmental monitoring will continue throughout the building’s life.

The building itself consists of:

* A circular 200 seat rammed earth lecture theatre.

* 24 en suite study bedrooms fitted with energy monitoring equipment.

* New toilet facilities with natural zero energy treatment of grey water and sewage.

* Plant and server rooms for the monitoring of energy and water usage in the building.

* Seminar rooms and workshops.

* Offices, common rooms and reception areas.

* Research laboratory.

* Restaurant and bar – promoting the importance of sustainable land use, food miles and a healthy diet.

* Uniquely designed organic gardens.

For interviews or comment, please contact the press office: 01654 705957