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.

student
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.

 

 

CAT celebrates the next generation of graduates ‘making it happen’

Graduates from the Centre for Alternative Technology celebrate their academic successes at ceremony.

CAT Graduation
CAT’s CEO Adrian Ramsay addresses Graduates and their families in the rammed earth lecture theatre

Over 40 students from the Graduate School of the Environment at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Machynlleth celebrated the successful completion of their studies with an award ceremony on Saturday 14th November.

The evening also included a buffet dinner, a welcome from CAT’s chief executive Adrian Ramsay and a keynote speech by Professor Herbert Girardet, leading environmental commentator and author of several books including the seminal “Blueprint for a Green Planet” (1987) and “Creating Regenerative Cities” (2014).

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The class of 2015 – CAT Graduation

The event saw students graduate from all of CAT’s postgraduate programmes: MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment, Professional Diploma in Architecture, MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies and MSc Sustainability and Adaptation.

Adrian Ramsay, CEO of CAT, said they were the people who would be ‘making it happen’ in the transition to a zero carbon future:

“The world faces many challenges in the transition to a zero carbon future. The knowledge and skills that our graduates learn by studying at the Graduate School for the Environment equip them well to be the people making it happen. We are very proud of this year’s CAT graduates and look forward to hearing about their successes as they take the knowledge gained from their time at CAT into their careers, communities and home lives.”

Five students received particular awards for excellence in their dissertations. Helen Nicholls received an award for her dissertation comparing the impact of different waste water treatment systems on climate change. Lee Eyre received an award for his research into the role of metaphor in the world views of environmentalists. Elgan Roberts’ award-winning study looked at the greenhouse gas emissions from small scale hydroelectric schemes in Wales. Anne-Clare Landolt received an award for her dissertation on storing heat to improve greenhouse growing conditions. Lucy Jones also received an award for her technical report on a more sustainable alternative to supermarkets.

graduation buffet
CAT congratulates the class of 2015 with a buffet dinner

This year’s graduates join over one thousand people who have graduated from CAT’s postgraduate courses and are working for sustainability in their work and communities across the UK and around the world. CAT graduates have taken their skills to many professions which need expertise in sustainability and many companies have been set up by CAT graduates, bringing innovative solutions to environmental problems.

Photographs by Eveleigh Photography

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Celebrating in the bar after the ceremony

The sun shines on Mynydd Gorddu Windfarm.

The sun shines on Mynydd Gorddu Windfarm.

 

A REBE trip to Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm.
A REBE trip to Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm.

 

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.

 

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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.

 

Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm
Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm

 

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.

 

IMG_9818IMG_9834REBE Students taken notes about the Mynydd Gorddu windfarm.

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.

 

the wind blows us back to

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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;

 

An interview with REBE student Alexandra King.
An interview with REBE student Alexandra King.

 

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.”

 

Many thanks Alexandra !

 

 

Transition People, Transformation People

environmental student
Sustainability degree
Students (Photo: Anna Cooke-Yarborough)

Helen Kennedy, a student on CAT’s new MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation masters course reflects on her experience of the first module.

A fortnight ago, I was preparing for my first week away, holidays discounted, for many years. I’ve been 22 years out of my own academia, and 22 years in the world of education as a teacher. Certainly, my career involved the odd training day, but as educational policy changed, so did the nature of these training days, and what had started out as my choice of training in areas which interested me and influenced my individual style slowly but surely became training in managing policy change and accommodating the latest dogma. I felt the real world was getting lost somewhere. Moreover this Real World was something I was becoming increasingly concerned about. So, it was with a huge amount of excitement that I packed my bags in readiness for something I really want to be involved in; something which will influence and educate me massively and hopefully as a product, influence others too.

I was not disappointed. Amongst the aims of this first module, it is stated that whilst getting an overview of the implications of transformational adaptation for social structures, land use, energy provision, economics and governance and its impact on the environment, we should also appreciate the interconnectedness of these things. As the week’s lectures progressed, this became increasingly apparent and it was interesting to hear about sustainability and adaptation from such diverse angles.

Student project
Bird hide (Photo: John Butler)

Each and every one of us took something important away from the many lectures and seminars, and for me, every lecture prompted the recall of the sort of things my partner and I would discuss over breakfast, and left me feeling that maybe I could make some sort of difference.

Adam Tyler’s “Energy Now” brought home perfectly just how big the gap is between the energy we use every twenty-four hours , and how much we could physically make ourselves in that same twenty-four hours, (41 days of cycling being equivalent to one day’s energy use).

Cath Hassell’s lecture on Water Security changed completely the way I think about expanses of lush green lawns in Spring and Summer, in terms of the water needed to maintain them, and the discussion regarding bottled water consumption brought to mind an article I had read about the terrifying “gyres” of plastic bottles floating in the middle of the world’s oceans.

The three lectures given by Tom Barker, Environmental Change, Biodiversity Changes and Ecosystem Functions were for me a brilliant introduction to a huge and complicated subject, and underlined how even gradual changes in complex systems can have far-reaching consequences. The phrases that stay with me are “keystone species”, “Snowball Earth” and “tipping points”. These lectures particularly affected myself and others in quite an emotional way, and I think it’s fair to say that we all came away feeling a sense of urgency, a purpose.

Lectures about Politics, Economy and Sustainability prompted discussions about what alternative models might look like, and a consideration of their advantages and drawbacks. The notion of negative interest is one example of a few concepts which have never occurred to me, and despite thinking that these might be dry areas for me, I have become excited to find out more.

fantastic location
University in the mountains (Photo: Helen Kennedy)

Lectures given by Bryce Gilroy-Scott and Tim Coleridge on Sustainable Cities and the Built Environment, coupled with Adam Tyler’s reprise to talk about Energy Futures were a positive force in strengthening our belief that change is not only possible, but that there are also a plethora of ways in which it might be accomplished. The challenge of designing well, from the outset, from the inside-out; in choosing suitable and adequate energy supplies, using materials innovatively and considering how settlements are organic and might successfully operate increasingly as a more closed cycle, is an exciting one.

This was a very full week, where time was most definitely not linear, and friendships were forged, through discussion, group work, room-sharing, over mealtimes, drinks and dancing. That this took place, and will continue to take place in such a special setting, surrounded by four decades of experimentation which has seen sustainability move from the fringes into the mainstream, made it even better. The Scottish Referendum was an inevitable backdrop for the week, and in spite of the result, the Friday night Ceilidh celebration was a wonderful and rather sweaty (for me!) end to the week’s events, organised brilliantly by Kirsty Cassels and the musicians Geoff, Matt and Roddy. I reckon they only did it to avoid the half hour long dances that left my face looking like a beetroot.

I came to this course as an introvert, and that is something that will not change. Snatched moments in the morning were precious, and found me mostly mountain-gazing into the morning mist, watching goldfinches and listening to their bell-like tinkling, finding the cherry tomatoes in the poly-tunnel and just eating one, and wondering in the stillness of the morning at the one beech tree that shook its leaves whilst the others remained motionless. Yes, it was a real challenge for me to meet so many new people all at once, to share a room, to speak out and to survive such an intense time of immersion with so little time for contemplation. What made it possible was the quality of the people – the MSc students from such diverse backgrounds, the Architecture students who put on such a stunning exhibition of their work for us and studied alongside us, the course leaders, my patient and very lovely room-mate.

The people who arrived nervously at the beginning of the week were not quite the same people who left the following Saturday. We are arming ourselves with knowledge that will empower us and others. We are changing. We are people in transition; Transformation People.

By Helen Kennedy

Also read Helen’s blog about her open day experience at CAT.

Student life
Friday night knees up (Photo: John Butler)

 

Starting an MSc is a life-changing decision

By Helen Kennedy, who just got back from CAT’s postgraduate open weekend where she came to find out about our new MSc Sustainability and Adaptation course. 

Helen Kennedy at Treffyn
Helen Kennedy at Treffyn

Having 22 years’ teaching experience, and not liking the way things have been going for some years, I decided to try somehow to make a difference both to my life and possibly the lives of many others by taking more practical skills and thinking back into the classroom. But how to do it? Budgets are tight and present government educational climate wrong to try to do it from the inside, so, having long been interested in the world of renewable energy, sustainable building methods and permaculture design, I have decided to get trained up and qualified, and try to deliver what I feel is crucial stuff back into the world of primary and secondary education from the outside.

And so I began to look into the possibilities. It didn’t take long to realize that the courses available at CAT offer something you cannot get anywhere else, in terms of the wealth of knowledge concentrated there, the immersive environment, the “what you see around you everywhere reflects what you learn” whole ethos of the site itself, the great reputation of CAT and its long-standing history. I visited CAT as an enthusiastic 7 year old, and remember the revolutionary half-flushing toilets and hand-made wind turbine. From tiny acorns, as the saying goes.

I arrived on Saturday morning feeling excited but rather apprehensive about the weekend, and as the funicular carriage heaved me up the steep slope, it was difficult not to feel seven again, with my weekend’s belongings stuffed in a bag and a thousand questions stuffed in my head.

The gathering of people in front of the WISE building reflected the sheer diversity of those interested and driven to make whatever differences they can to tackle the environmental changes happening to the world, and to learn more about it, or to pass on their expertise, and I was immediately made to feel welcome, and taken on an impromptu tour of some of the work undertaken by students during a week of trying out different wall building and rendering techniques, including home-made lime putty, pizza ovens and a potential sauna. CAT students obviously know how to have fun 😉

CAT students making lime putty last week

The weekend formally began with an introduction to CAT from Tim Coleridge, followed by a lecture about climate change and adaptation delivered at lightning speed by Ranyl Rhydwen, who could get his message across to a sack of spuds, so lively is his style and passionate is his conviction. Catching our breath (!) we were whisked off on tours of some of the AEES [course to be replaced by Sustainability and Adaptation in September] students’ projects, and very industrious stuff it is too. From investigations into the properties of different mixes of hemp shives and lime, to exterior render experiments, some even including flour in the mix, and various different building projects underway, it was all very interesting. Brain overload was avoided by discussing also the social side of things; the starlit sauna up the steep slope behind the WISE building, or a, dare I say it, drinking den down the Magical Mole Hole!

Following a well-earned break, an exemplification of course modules and a Q&A session we went off to find our rooms. The first thing to hit me was the aroma of wood oil, and then the sliding door onto the decking area with daisies and a PV array, courtesy of this year’s REBE students. I could have stayed in there for the rest of the evening, except for the promise of pizza baked in a clay oven, a cool cider, some great company and an unexpected stomp up the slope to see the site from the wind turbines and to get eaten alive by midges as the sun sank behind some lenticular clouds.

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Cooking pizza on Saturday night

A peaceful sleep, a renewable shower and a vegetarian CAT-special breakfast later, we were all gathered to listen to Tobi Kellner’s Zero Carbon Britain lecture. This was possibly one of the most powerful 40 minutes I have ever experienced, and one with a hugely positive message. I have since returning home, downloaded the pdf file of this lecture with its brilliantly clear and user-friendly info-graphics.

I had to leave early, to see if my wild-camping partner and dog had made it to Aberdovey in the heat of the weekend (which they had), but my head was left buzzing with all the activities and messages I had seen and heard, and the fabulous folk I met, and hope to meet again, as a student. Fingers crossed.

If you missed the open weekend but are interested in the MSc courses offered at CAT visit the Graduate School of the Environment webpages or contact us.

Distance Learning Blog: Architecture and Adaptation in Pakistan

CAT’s reputation for postgraduate study is known the world over. We offer a distance learning option for students keen to study on CAT’s Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies MSc. One of our current students, Suraiya, talks about her motivations for studying on this life-changing course.

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I am a distance learning full-time student at CAT, studying for the MSc Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies course.

I started this course in September 2012 and have completed the first year while living in Pakistan. However, just recently we have relocated to Manila, Philippines, so I shall now be working on my thesis from here.

I graduated from a university in Karachi, Pakistan, with a BSc (honors) degree in Architecture, in 2001. From then on, till recently (just before the relocation) I have been a practising architect, specializing in residential design. I have also taught architectural design for 3 years, part-time at the bachelors level.

Throughout the course of my career, while working and teaching in a developing country, my architectural practice started to seem very superficial. I seemed to be living and designing for a community that lived in a bubble and thus their housing requirements did not address the realities of today’s world. The grave realities of resource depletion, climate change and the need to work as a team to bring about not only change, but also learning to adapt and deal with the natural disasters that frequent increasingly.

In 2010, according to the government statistics, approximately 20 millions people were affected by floods that resulted from heavy monsoon rains all over Pakistan. Leading to the loss of lives, livelihoods and destruction of homes. Since then this has become a recurring yearly natural disaster in Pakistan.

Realities such as these made me recognise that I now needed to channel my energies and design to positively contribute towards something more meaningful and impactful.

The AEES course has not only introduced me to the present day issues and concerns that the world faces, but it has also equipped me with the technical knowledge which I can now use to achieve successful, sustainable designs.

To find out more about our MSc in Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies please visit our website. Applications are now open for the March and September intakes.

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New Skills in 2014: Timber Frame Building

We have a host of exciting short courses taking place at CAT in 2014, and up until the end of January there’s 10% off! One of our most popular courses is Timber Frame Building, a five day course from 31st March to the the 4th April 2014. 

This course is for anyone interested in sustainable construction, timber buildings and building your own home. This course particularly welcomes participants from NGOs working in development, self-builders, construction teachers, individuals looking to re-skill and architects. Over the five days students will gain unique hands-on experience, underpinned by talks on the process of planning and building timber structures.

The tutors on the Timber Frame Building course  are all experts in the field: Pat Borer is an architect with over 35 years experience in designing and constructing green buildings; Duncan Roberts is Programme Leader of CAT’s Part II in Architecture and Geoff Stow built his own home in Lewisham and is part of the Association for Environment Conscious Building (AECB).

Timber Framers in 2013

The course attracts a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds such as Yotin, who came on the course with his neighbour last year to learn how to live off-grid. The two explained that “the lecturers are kick-ass, down to earth and informative” sharing their expertise with a “hands-on approach”.

At the end of the course participants understand timber frame design and are able initiate their own timber frame self-build projects.

For more information about the Timber Frame Building course visit our website.

On the 16th August there will be a new course closely linked to this one: Traditional Timber Frame Joints. The course will cover an overview of the tools and techniques used in marking and cutting joints in a series of hands-on workshop session.

Remember, we are offering a 10% on courses booked before the end of January. For terms and conditions please visit our website.

A day in the life of an architecture student at CAT

The Friday of the November module was a very busy day for the Prof Dip students, with a long awaited field trip and a rather unusual social event in the evening…

The day started with breakfast together in the restaurant – for those who could drag themselves out of bed, of course!

A little later, we arrived at Portmeirion – the first stop on our field trip. Portmeirion is about an hour’s drive from CAT, near the town of Porthmadog.

Portmeirion was designed and built by Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in the style of an Italian village. While at the site, we looked at the way the site was planned and developed in comparison to the CAT site – as they are both developments of similar sizes in a similar area, there may be ways in which the development of Portmeirion could influence a masterplan for CAT.

We set about exploring the village – and, of course, stopping for photographs!

Our next project (starting in January) will be in Porthmadog. As we were already in the area, we stopped off to take a look at the town! From our vantage point above Porthmadog we could see the Cob, a large sea wall built in 1811 to reclaim the Traeth Mawr estuary for agricultural use – a development that has strongly impacted the growth and development of the town, and which could lead to problems in the future as a result of rising sea levels.

Eating our packed lunches next to the harbour in Porthmadog.

Tremadog, on the outskirts of Porthmadog, was planned by William Madocks – the man responsible for building the Cob, and the growth of Porthmadog.

Our next stop was the garden at Plas Brondanw, the home of Clough Williams-Ellis. The garden was planned to take advantage of the natural landscape surrounding the house, with a series of outdoor ‘rooms’ and carefully planned views out towards the mountains.

Dan, Dan and Andy demonstrate the range of colourful trousers modelled by Prof Dip students.

Finally, we made one last stop on the way home – a mountain road with a view back down over the Traeth Mawr. From here we could see Porthmadog and the former estuary (which is now agricultural land).

We arrived back at CAT in time for dinner with the MSc students.Photo 12Friday night is our Social Night – traditionally, the tutors and Students put on pantomimes during the November module! After dinner, we set about writing the Prof Dip panto and getting ourselves ready.

We were given Tom Thumb as our pantomime – which somehow became a skit on the Nativity at CAT, featuring Merlin, the men of WISE and of course our Dame! It was a great evening – although there were some moments which are probably best forgotten…

Finally, everyone relaxed with a drink after a long and exciting day!

A week learning about sustainable living services

Last week I arrived at CAT for my six month volunteer placement. I immediately went along to the Sustainable Building Services module, part of  the AEES Masters at CAT, but it is also offered as a Short Course. The course offers a theoretical look at how we can save energy, use it wisely and build/retrofit buildings by appropriately managing their ventilation and water systems.

~Day 1 ~

Frances Hill, the module leader, started with ventilation techniques showing innovative ways to control aeration such as indoor fountains. Following this, Tom Baker’s lecture showed the degrading impacts of chemicals used in industry that create contaminated land. After lunch the in-depth solar water heating lecture by Arthur Butler presented the idea that, in some cases, being more efficient can be a waste of time and energy as the pay-backs are incredibly lengthy and often work best in hotter environments.

~Day 2~

We started the day again with a lecture by Frances Hill. This time, on cooling buildings by understanding climatic variations such as humidity. Tom Baker’s lecture on precipitation and flooding solutions such as SUDS (Sustainable Urban Design Strategies) shed light on the flooding problems the UK will be facing in years to come due to climate change. There was much laughter during Louise Halestrap’s lecture on sewage treatment, as we learnt that composting is the solution in more rural areas to our stinky problems, yet finding viable solutions in an urban context is much more challenging.

CAT students before the practical

~Day 3~

All students began the wet morning with a choice of practicals: some in Machynlleth, but most onsite. My choice of ‘compost toilets and clean water systems’ with Louise Halestrap began with a walk to the top reservoir at CAT. We tested the water’s turbidity – its clarity – to determine how many particulates are floating around. We examined all the different types of systems used at CAT, such as UV filters, ceramic filters and more natural systems including vertical and horizontal reed-beds. Some techniques were better than others: the dual-chamber compost toilets came out as being the least energy intensive. In the evening, a tour of sedum roofs and other ‘living roofs’ on site showed us their simplicity and it has inspired me to one day make my own.

Compost toilet onsite using worms to breakdown organic matter.

~Day 4~

The last day of lectures started with Ben Abel talking about clean air architecture in the context of tall buildings (e.g. the ‘Gherkin’ in London). Mentioned was the use of ‘green-washing’ by businesses, occasions when ‘green’ designs are used as a marketing tool rather than being truly sustainable. After lunch it was up to the WISE roof with Tobi to follow the sun’s path to determine the best position for solar panels (information here on data so you can plan your own).

In the evening there was a truly inspiring lecture by Jonathan Essex from Bioregional examining sustainable approaches to construction waste by looking at the behavioural changes possible in the production chain. Personally this was the most stimulating lecture, urging students to start with re-using rather than recycling, to deconstruct old buildings and reconstruct with them same materials to create vibrant and beautiful places.

Students dressed as the seven dwarfs for the Pantomine
Students dressed as the seven dwarfs for the Pantomine

To finish the week a fairytale pantomime was held in the evening to celebrate and give thanks to all the lectures, speakers, staff and students. Titles for the plays included ‘Snowdonia and the Seven Dorks’ (the CAT lecturers) and ‘The Princess and Her Pee’.

All in all the week was riveting. The combination of lectures, seminars, practicals and social tea-breaks allowed us to mingle and exchange ideas. Last week, being the first week of my six month stay here in CAT, has been the warmest welcome I could imagine.

Student Post: Planning for Real on the Prof Dip

We’ve asked some of our current students to write a short blog post about their studies after each module. You can see all of our student blogs here. Over the next year or so Rachel, a former long-term volunteer at CAT, will share her experiences on the Part II Architecture course.

In my last blog, I wrote about the beginning of our first project on the Professional Diploma: to create a vision for the future of the CAT site. We spent the September module forming our own impressions of the site and working on our ideas for how we felt the site could be developed.

Coming back in October for the next module, it was time to open the floor to the CAT community. In the lead up to the module, an invitation was sent out to CAT staff for a ‘Planning for Real’ exercise in the Straw Bale Theatre on the Friday afternoon of our module – a chance for us to meet the people who work at CAT and listen to their ideas. Arriving at the beginning of the week, this gave us a short deadline to get ready.

The centrepiece of the Planning for Real exercise was an enormous 1:200 scale model of the entire CAT site; a prop which would help in this discussion, and give us a chance to express our own ideas at the end of the project. In the weeks we were away from CAT, we had all worked individually on parts of the model (buildings, trees and the model base), but it became very clear at the beginning of the module that we still had a lot of work to do if we wanted the model finished by the end of the week!

Early days in the construction of the model

So we split up into groups and set about turning the bare bones of our model into something we could present to the CAT community. Some people worked on the buildings, modelling any that we had missed in our initial survey of the site, while others cut out the model base and used cork to recreate the dramatic landscape that surrounds CAT. A team was sent out to collect small bits of trees and twigs to represent the vegetation of the site, and add to the work that was being done to define some of the existing paths and areas of greenery that populate the area.

In between all of this, of course, we still had lectures to attend! This module the lectures focused on some aspects of building physics: heat transfer in buildings, thermal comfort and thermal mass being the main topics. The highlight of this month’s lectures, of course, was the sauna practical; a short stint in the sauna followed by a brief swim in the lake really helped to illustrate some of the basics of thermal comfort!

Adding the ‘greenery’

Finally, the week came to a close with the ‘Planning for Real’ exercise. We only just finished the model in time: even as people started arriving, we were still drilling holes for trees! Still, the afternoon was a success – we had a fantastic turnout, with an enthusiastic response to our questions about the future of the site. Everyone wanted their say, and we gathered a huge range of ideas and opinions during the afternoon from all the people who came.

Now it’s time to put those ideas down on paper…

The completed model