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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
CAT Education Officer, Ann MacGarry, reflects on her recent experience of teaching a group of 17 year olds from Italy.
I recently had a very satisfying week teaching a lovely group of 15 seventeen year olds from Italy who came as part of a European project. They were both easy going and really interested in the activities.
I’d done a bit of research into energy potential in Italy and renewable energy use across Europe so they had some appropriate data to use, particularly when it came to doing the Zero Carbon Futures session. I’d got hold of a map of Italy and they populated it with skilful modelling with plasticine and intelligent use of the models I have collected over the years. There was a tidal stream device between Sicily and the mainland, geothermal by Mount Vesuvius, solar systems in various places and wind farms in the appropriate windy areas. There were also more trees and the only vehicles were a bike, bus, train, tractors and emergency vehicles. They also had local foods in the appropriate places. This was really interesting as I’m sure that if you asked a group of seventeen year olds from Britain to locate local foods on a map of Britain, they’d be scratching their heads.
This reflects both what has happened to traditional foods in Britain and also our knowledge of it.
They also explored the impact of the stuff we buy through using our Where’s the Impact? cards, used the new version of Energy Trumps to learn all about energy sources, did our Water footprint activity, collaborated to see how to reduce carbon footprints with The Green House and put huge enthusiasm into designing and building wind turbine models. We also managed to fit in a walk up the hill to the reservoir, quarry and wind turbines and they were the only group I have ever seen do our Hooded Adventure with no-one cheating by peeping.
Pupils at Llangynfelyn Primary School have been on a trip to the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) as part of activities going on nationwide for British Science Week. During the visit they had a tour of the centre and took part in a wind power workshop, in which they designed and tested model wind turbines.
The trip was organised by the school for pupils from years three to six. Miss Cerys, a teaching assistant who accompanied the group alongside class teacher Miss Siwan, said:
“It has been a wonderful, out of the box, learning experience. I’ve learned about things I didn’t even think were possible, like using straw bales in walls. I have also been impressed by how much the children already knew, and it has given them a chance to express that too.”
Toni, a year six pupil said the day had been a lot of fun:
“I like how everyone has worked together. I like how we got to make our own wind turbine because it teaches you how energy works. I have also learned about solar energy and hydro energy. I think it would be good for people to look out and see their energy being produced.”
Ben and Harvey, also in year six, said:
“It has been fun and exciting and we have learned a lot about heating and buildings, and better ways to keep them warm. Doing things like this encourages you to do more science because it is fun and you do it with your friends.”
Gabi Ashton from the education department at CAT said:
“The focus of the trip was to give the children a hands-on experience of the sustainable technologies they’ve been learning about in the classroom. They were a wonderful group to have here up here as they seemed to really engage with with CAT’s practical approach to learning and enjoyed the challenge of using science in a constructive way to solve problems”
Other schools wishing to visit the centre for tours, workshops and activities should contact the Education Department on 01654 705983 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. CAT will also be open from Monday and throughout the Easter holidays with daily children’s activities.
Tasha 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.
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.
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!
Yesterday the REBE (Renewable Energy and the Built Environment) students were taken to visit Mynydd Gorddu Wind Farm located near Tal-y-bont, Ceredigion, West Wales and given a tour by the site manager. As a media volunteer I get to document all the interesting excursions students make, and so I thanked the weather gods for a sunny day, pulled on my long johns and packed my camera. After bumpy ride down narrow roads on the local coach, we arrived and were greeted by the sites operational manager, a sharp man in his forties. With the sun on our backs, we huddled round like penguins as he explain how this wind farm, which has been successfully running for nearly 20 years was started.
Developed initially by Trydan Gwynt Cyfyngedig in 1997 – a company owned by a local family, Dr Dafydd Huws and Mrs Rhian Huws, npower renewables was involved in the early stages but in 1993 ceased to be involved with the project. Beaufort wind Limited are listed as the owner now, RWE Innogy as the operator. Dr Dafydd Huws had been inspired by the turbines at CAT and later through visits to Denmark where the technology has been developed further. In 1997 however, npower renewables agreed to assume responsibility for the financing and construction of the wind farm. Trydan Gwynt Cyfyngedig became a co-operative venture between npower renewables, now called RWE Innogy and the Huws family company, Amgen, the welsh for “positive change”. Dr Huws and his company Amgen continue to have, a leading role in the development of the wind farm and its operation.
By all accounts this wind farm was remarkably successful, with a good track record of fulfilling its potential, but like all machines they do need maintenance.It was interesting to hear direct from the horses mouth what its like to manage a site such as this, what kind of decisions you have to make when lightening strikes and melts the conductors. Calling crane companies and having to pay them double so they can come lift off the hub and propellers the next day, and get the turbine back in action as quick as possible. These kind of quick financial calculations, mixed in with practical monitoring and maintenance are all part of a days work for a wind farm operational site manager.
The site was awarded European grant of £1.3m to trial four different types of turbine but today there stands 19 turbines, with two different diameters, as the planning authorities weren’t so happy with the idea of too many different machines scattered across the hills. The planners also ensured that the sub-station, where the electricity is sent into the grid and where the turbines are monitored (with P.C’s STILL running from 1995, a little fact to amaze the techo- heads) is built in a true vernacular style, with stone walls, wooden doors and iron detailing.
If you are interested in the performance of these medium sized wind turbines then you may be interested in the following; 7 of the turbines are each rated at 600 kilo Watts with a hub height of 34 metres and a rotor diameter of 43m. The other 12 are rated at 500kW each with a hub height of 35m and rotor diameter of 41m. The rotors on both turbine sizes turn at an approximate speed of 30 revolutions per minute (rpm), driving a gearbox within the nacelle which is in turn connected to a generator. The turbines start to generate electricity automatically when the wind speed reaches around 11 miles per hour (mph), and achieve maximum output at around 33 mph. They shut down when the wind speed exceeds 56 mph, which is rare. The farm has a combined maximum output of 10.2 megawatts.
I have no pretentions of being an engineer, and so many of these technical details the REBE students were avidly scribbling down passed me by and I tuned into the gentle sound of the blades swooshing above me in the cold winter wind and their majestic white silhouettes cutting into the crisp blue sky, a symbol to me of beauty and hope. I was also noticing the red kites sailing high in the sky, the fresh strong blast of cold wind whipping around my ears and noticed a suprising birds nest above one of the windmills doors at the base.
I am interested in the politics and people behind these endeavours and was intrigued to hear how carefully Dr Dafydd Huws tried to maximize the returns to the community by ensuring the windfarm infrastructure spread across more than one owners land. There is a fund, “Cronfa Eleri” that’s administered by Amgen, who have set up the Cronfra Eleri Advisory Committee, ensuring that people who understand the needs of the community decide how the money is spent to provide the widest community benefit. The fund yields about £10,00 a year and in 2011 the fund helped buy a new heating system for a community centre in Ysgoldy Bethlehem, Llandre, a new shed for the local Talybont nursery, the re-wiring and renovation of the local church in Bontgoch, and towards a new tennis court in conjunction with the Playingfield Society Rhydypennau.
As we wandered back to the coach, we waved good-bye to the beautiful bullocks, (the wind farm was fully integrated with the traditional farming practices of the area, with sheep and cows grazing beneath the turbines) and all looked forward to a delicious lunch awaiting us at CAT. The electricity from the farm traced our steps, passing along a cables supported by wooden poles from Bow street to Machynlleth, carrying clean electricity to the local electricity grid network for use in local homes, schools and businesses. All in all it had been a very successful trip, but lets see what Alexandra King, a REBE student who came too had to say;
Who are you and what do you do when your not studying at CAT?
“I’m Alexandra King. I live and work in Bath. My husband is a consulting engineer, I work with him, mainly as a support at the moment, but hope that after finishing this course, I will be more involved in the engineering design.”
Why did you decide to study at CAT?
“CAT is the obvious choice – to my knowledge it is the best place in the country to study renewables. Why? For a long time now I was a mecologist by choice. I believe in sustainable lifestyle. We’ve installed PVs on our roof as soon as we had a chance. Renewable energy is clean and available everywhere, even in the most remote locations. It will not run out anytime soon, unlike fossil fuels. And if we start making changes now, by the time we do run out of coal and gas, we should have good enough infrastructure to keep us going. I don’t know if we could slow down the climate change, but there is always hope.”
What did you learn from the trip to the windfarm?
“I’ve always liked wind turbines, and this visit just reinforced this affection. They are so elegant and not at all noisy. The footprint of a turbine is very small. I love the possibility of the double use of land (cattle or crops), turbines scale easily, the construction time is relatively short, unfortunately so is the lifespan of a wind farm. But I am sure we can overcome this in the future.
One more thing, I’ve visited several wind farms and yet to see a single dead bird, yet, driving home a few days ago, saw 8 corpses on the motorway… one of them was a badger, I think, but still.”
How do you find the teaching on the course, and is there anything you would change about your student experience with CAT?
“I love CAT, wouldn’t change a thing. Except I wish I’d started earlier, like several years ago, but never mind now. I think this course is well balanced; it will give me a broad understanding of principles and technologies that will be very useful in my future work.”
Charming and professional it seemed like they were in thinking mode and it was only by the skin on my teeth that I (a media and marketing volunteer) managed to meet these lovely people on a mission. Lets hear what they had to say…
What motivated you to do this MSc?
“I wanted to learn more about different renewable energy technologies, and so this seemed the right course for me. A colleague of mine did the course a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I came up to look around a couple of times and was really impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment from staff”
What were you doing before you came?
“Well I did and still do work full time for a medium sized wind turbine consultancy in Swansea, called Seren Energy”.
What do you feel you are getting from the course?
“I am getting hands on practical skills and knowledge from people who work in the industry”.
What has the most interesting thing that you’ve learnt about since doing the course?
“Everything, All of it! Its too hard to choose as everything has been very relevant and interesting”.
How do you find the course structure/ teaching?
“Brilliant! But intense… Its a lot of work since I am working full time”.
Name: NICK STOLFA.
Occupation: REBE MSc student and Electrical Design Consultant for Atkins.
What motivated you to come on the course?
“I wanted to continue progressing in this field, following completion of an undergraduate degree in renewable energy. More specifically, I felt the practical aspects of the REBE course would help to solidify my academic knowledge”.
What do you feel you are getting from the course?
“Practical experience combined with new academic knowledge; it’s really interesting learning from people who not only teach, but also work within the renewable energy industry. They know their stuff!”
What is the most interesting thing you have learnt about so far?
“Learning about Passivhaus was especially interesting, with the practical we did in the self-build really bringing the concepts to life”.
What do you hope to do with your MSc after the course?
“I intend to apply for profession registration with the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET). Following this I would ideally like to complete a doctorate, hopefully based on the dissertation I do as part this MSc”.
How do you find the course structure/ teaching?
“The first week was a bit of a shock, as its quite an intensive schedule, but I have got used to it now. The teaching is of a high standard and I certainly feel I’m getting my moneys worth!”
Would you’d change anything?
“I wouldn’t mind a bit more time to recap on lecture notes, as there really is a lot to take in. So maybe an additional free period would be helpful”.
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.
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.
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: