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).

class of 2015
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

graduation bar
Celebrating in the bar after the ceremony

Palletecture: From packing cases to lamella structures

Starting from experimental making with a limited range of materials, students learn to make building elements which fit loosely together to form buildings which sit appropriately within the slowly changing physical and institutional topography of the city.

Since 1985, over 100 week long courses have been run at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) by Professor Maurice Mitchell and colleagues from the Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, London Metropolitan University. The A Way of Building short course aims to provide participants with the opportunity to design and make buildings using materials found on site or available locally. Skills are site based, focusing on those of mason (wet trades) and carpenter (dry trades). Building structures from locally sourced materials is the ultimate way to ensure that a structure is low impact and ecologically sound. This course explores ways to use earth, green timber, straw and stone amongst others to build beautiful, functional structures.

Students erecting a pallet roof
Making Laboratory, A Way of Building course at CAT (Image credit: Emma Curtin)

The site and course at CAT is our ongoing Making Laboratory. A hands-on construction project runs throughout the 5-day course. This involves all participants in a cyclic process of experimentation and focused group criticism followed by modifications to the original proposal. As the course progresses and the skills, ambitions and interactions of the participants become clear, a built form evolves which is quite unique. The final product, which is left standing as participants leave, is more a large-scale model than a finished building. Its form, never predictable at the start of the process is a way of learning about the process by which technology and human agency are transformed into a culture of making with a civic and ethical content.

The seeming triviality of the objects being made is banished within the group as the work proceeds by constant self-conscious communication and iterative endeavour. Meaning is attached to the building elements being made by clearly identifying prototypes and other precedents. This consolidates the learning process. The end of the course is marked with a review conducted by the participants in which lessons learned are made explicit.

The Architecture of Rapid Change and Scarce Resources (ARCSR) at the Cass is an emergent research area within the teaching and practice of architecture, led by Professor Mitchell and Dr. Bo Tang. It examines and extends knowledge of the physical and cultural influences on the process of transforming the built environment. It focuses on situations where resources are scarce and where both culture and technology are in a state of rapid change, and explores the culture of making and the contribution this makes to effective change for transitional communities, particularly in informal urban settlements where new identities are forged in the process of remaking. Many of the research led live projects in the ARCSR area have extrapolated building elements and research methods which have emerged from this course.

One of these building elements is the barrel vaulted lamella structure made from reused wooden pallets, with the additional challenge of using no metal fixings. Students and participants have been experimenting on the annual week long course with pallet timber to make roof structures, flooring, panelling and staircases and ladders. ARCSR architecture studios undertake an annual field trip in which students engage proactively with a rapidly changing under resourced local situation devising imaginative responses to specific cultural and technical issues. In recent years, students have developed and refined the pallet lamella structure prototype, adapting it to varying contexts, including the Eastern Mediterranean University in Northern Cyprus, a housing estate in East London and an informal squatter settlement in India.

latice structure
Lamella structure at Jagdamba Camp, New Delhi, India
(Image credit: Angela Hopcraft)

Extending the experiment his year, students constructed three different lamella structures in the city of London: on a rooftop, churchyard and Sunday marketplace, engaging local residents and communities in dialogue about proposed masterplans, Crossrail and urban change in the area. Made from found timber pallets and borrowing ideas articulated by Joi Ito (Head of MIT Media Lab) in his recent TED talk: Want to innovate? Become a “now-ist”, students addressed the contingencies of city complexity and shortage of time, working by a process of resistance and accommodation to the contingencies of situation. This embraces the super present now-ism of new no cost permissionless intervention where innovation is pushed out to the edges: where the power of pull is greater than the burden of push.

structure at the Isle of dogs
Lamella roof structure and pallet stepladder, Isle of Dogs, London
(Image credit: Maurice Mitchell)

“The design and prefabricated construction of the lamella structures was conducted at the [Cass] workshops at Central House and Commercial Road, culminating in a kit of parts that was subsequently dismantled and packaged for transportation to site. The three structures were then erected over a matter of hours, being assembled as loose fit structures so that both the critical path of assembly and the contingencies of fit were reduced as much as possible. The lamellas were used as a point of interaction between students and the public, whilst also facilitating the capturing of ‘key-hole views’ from both inside and outside the structures. Each view captures a snapshot of a serendipitous moment framed by an opening, a door, window, crack or keyhole. The City’s Progress March slowed down for a while and dystopia became utopia for a fleeting moment: a moment to reflect and recalibrate.”

Chloe Anderson, student

Structure at aldgate
Lamella structure at St. Boltoph Without Aldgate Church, London (Image credit: Sogand Babol)

The A Way of Building course takes place at CAT from 6th-10th July 2015, and is aimed at anyone with an interest in sustainable building. It is particularly suited to architects and self-builders as it offers a hands-on experience of tools and materials. Participants will learn skills necessary in constructing structures out of a wide variety of materials. They will also learn how to apply this knowledge in a range of scenarios and for their own projects.

About the Author

Dr. Bo Tang teaches on the “A Way of Building” course at CAT and is a Lecturer at the Cass School of Architecture, London Metropolitan University, and Research Coordinator and Fellow for the Architecture of Rapid Change and Scarce Resources.

Interested in Sustainable Architecture?

Study on CAT’s Professional Diploma in Architecture Part II course, or join our MSc Sustainability and Adaptation in the Built Environment.

Lines Drawn: A weekend to shake up architectural education

The Centre for Alternative Technology & the Architecture Students Network (ASN) presents Lines Drawn, an exciting event on the future of architectural education. The conference will start off at 12 noon on Saturday the 15th and end 2 pm 16th of March 2014. It promises to be a memorable occasion and is set in the stunning WISE building at CAT.

ASN Flyer (2)

The debate will center around changes to the architectural education system in line with a new EU directive.  It will discuss whether part 1, 2 and 3 should be dramatically shortened or completely scrapped, what emphasis and titles there should be on professional practice and what the new EU directive might mean for architectural education in the UK.

CAT is already an innovator in architectural education. The professional diploma in architecture run at CAT lasts for a continuous 18 months, saving six months on the traditional part II course. It also contains an emphasis on practical experience, alongside academic content.

RIBA has estimated that it takes about a decade for an architect to be be fully registered and is often laborious putting a great deal of people off. Former RIBA president. Jack Pringle said “drastic change” is needed adding that its ”crazy, it can’t take that long to go into one of the poorest-paid professions.”

WISE Building

The event will take place in the WISE building, a unique structure using timber frame, rammed earth and hemp and lime in an  environmentally conscious design showcasing cutting-edge green building techniques. Book asap to be guaranteed a space.

 

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: Build a Compost Toilet

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!  From the 4th to the 6th of July discover the power of poo during our ‘Build a Compost Toilet’ short course.

Although the vast majority of the UK’s houses are connected to the mains, there are some that must find alternatives to local sewage treatment works. Compost toilets can be efficient and practical, resulting in nutrient-rich soil to be used in the garden. They don’t use any water, although most types of toilet need a fair bit of room to allow composting to occur at a steady pace.

During this three day course the essentials for building your own compost toilet will be covered. With Grace Grabb, CAT’s water and natural resources specialist, course participants will learn about the changes human waste undergoes during the composting process. CAT’s resident carpenter Carwyn Jones will then demonstrate some of the techniques needed to build your own compost toilet.

Students sorting the nutrient rich compost
Grace sorting the nutrient rich compost

Composting your waste is a relatively easy and cheap way to reduce your waste and constructing your own toilet can be great fun. The soil produced after a year or two is pleasant to remove, and can be put straight on the garden (although preferably on non-food plants). Compost toilets are increasingly being built in allotments, back gardens and even indoors. Addition of the right amount of ‘soak’ gives good decomposition. A ‘soak’ is a source of carbon – typical materials include sawdust, straw and earth. The four main components to make your compost a nutrient-rich success are: heat, moisture, oxygen and a little dedication!

Carwyn constructing a timber frame compost toilet at Grand Designs Live in 2012.

From DIY to ‘off the shelf’ designs, this course can help you decide whether or not a composting toilet is right for you. The course invites anyone and everyone to join in, from urban gardeners to off-grid enthusiasts. Pupils will learn more about construction and cladding methods, as well as the biological processes that happen deep within the soil on a molecular level.

To discover a more holistic approach to waste management, sign up for the course now.

For those more interested in the theory behind compost toilets, rather than the construction methods, we offer a one day course: Introduction to Compost Toilets. This forms the first day of the Build a Compost Toilet course, and can be taken independently.

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

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

Student Blog: the first week 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.

Last month I started the Professional Diploma in Architecture course at CAT. It’s a very different approach to the study of Architecture, one I’m really looking forward to!

The first week was an introduction to the realities of climate change, one that will really set the context for our studies over the next year and a half. To start the week, we were plunged in at deep end with Ranyl Rhydwen’s lecture on environmental change – an interesting summary of the science behind climate change and the urgent need for immediate action. Having worked with Ranyl for six months before the start of the course, I was already familiar with some of the topics he covered, but it was still daunting to see the scale of the challenge we face! His adaptation and transformation lecture later in the week gave us a slightly more optimistic look at the future.

Our other lecturers looked at different aspects of climate change and sustainability: Tom Barker introduced us to the importance of biodiversity and the need to protect and encourage it; Adam Tyler summarised the current energy situation – how much we use, and where it comes from. We also heard about CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain project from Tobi Kellner: a scenario where Britain could rapidly decarbonise and be run entirely on renewable energy. Finally, Tim Coleridge’s lecture near the end of the week talked about the role of the construction industry, and the need to adapt the built environment for future climate conditions.

The week wasn’t all lectures, however, as we also began our first studio project! We have been tasked with producing a master plan for the future of the CAT, a possible vision of what the site could be in the next five, ten or twenty years – working alongside members of the community here and building upon strategies that already exist.

Sketch by Kirsty Cassels

As most people were new to CAT, our first job was to get to know the site (or, in my case, get to know it better). So, sketchbooks and cameras in hand, we set out to explore. For two days we wandered the site collecting information, drawing and photographing the things that caught our eye, talking to members of staff and visitors and reading up on the history of the site. Even having already worked at CAT for some time, I was able to really get involved and learn new things about this fascinating place.

Later, as we collated our notes and sketches, the issues and problems we wanted to tackle quickly became apparent – as did the potential opportunities. We set about preparing some initial strategies and proposals (gaining some insight into designing by consensus along the way), and discussed how we were going to involve the CAT community in our project.

Next month, we will start the consultation with CAT members of staff and ask them what it is they want for the site in the future. We’ve done our groundwork – let’s see where it goes from there!

Timber frame and cob – getting muddy at Grand Designs Live

This weekend CAT is heading to Grand Designs Live in Birmingham! On Friday, Saturday and Sunday we’ll be building a beautiful timber frame structure and running hands-on sessions working with cob. It’s going to be an amazing weekend full of sustainable building and we’d love to see you there.

Grand Designs Live have very generously given us four pairs of free tickets to the show for CAT supporters. If you’re interested in coming on either the Friday, Saturday or Sunday of the show then email media[at]cat.org.uk with your name and a contact number and we’ll get back to you.

If you’ve ever wanted to try working with cob or learn how to strengthen a building for a green roof then this is the place for you. We’ll also show you how to make a pizza oven!

More information about the show can be found here. We’ll be updating our Facebook and Twitter feeds regularly throughout the show.

Talking about the Graduate School of the Environment

The Centre for Alternative Technology has always aimed to educate people. As our tagline states, we want to ‘inform, inspire and enable’ people to live sustainable lives. At CAT this happens in many different ways, from interactive displays as part of our visitor centre to our Zero Carbon Britain report.

Since CAT started 40 years ago people have visited us to find out more about renewable technology and low-impact living. Like everything at our site in mid-Wales, the educational aspect of the organisation started organically. People wanted to learn, so they came to us to discover more. Over the years this training has become more formalised, and we now run a series of highly regarded postgraduate programmes. Over the next two weeks this blog series will be taking a closer look at those programmes, highlighting exactly what makes them so popular and relevant today.

For more information about our courses visit the Graduate School of the Environment website or click on one of the buttons to the right.