University Design Challenge calls on students to tackle the climate crisis in first event

University Design Challenge calls on students to tackle the climate crisis in online event

PRESS RELEASE · By Timber Trade Federation · 16 December 2021

Timber Development UK University Design Challenge is calling on students to tackle the climate crisis, as experts come together to share knowledge in online event.

The Timber Development UK University Design Challenge has begun, creating an exciting competition for built environment students and 2021 graduates from across the UK.

In a virtual event on 14 December 2021, Timber Development UK’s University and Regional Engagement Manager Tabitha Binding welcomed more than 50 students and graduates who had expressed interest in joining the competition.

The event was the first in a series of interactive webinars where entrants can learn and seek advice from professionals at the forefront of modern construction, before they are gathered into groups and challenged to design the new Southside community centre building in Hereford.

All designs must ensure the community centre building fits within its local landscape and places the client’s and community’s interests first at all times. Importantly, the designs must all be net zero, using sustainable building materials and construction methods to minimise the environmental impact of the building. The building must meet Passivhaus standards and exceed the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge targets, as well as prioritising the health and wellbeing of the local community and the people who will use the space.

To help inspire the students, this first launch event welcomed 12 speakers, all of whom are leaders in their field and passionate about taking positive action within construction to tackle the climate emergency.

Anthony Thistleton, from Waugh Thistleton Architects, said the world is at a tipping point in the climate crisis, and that it’s important for the industry to build efficiently, and also to think about how we build going forward. He said: “We’ve seen a decline in construction productivity because we’re still using old building methods. We have to produce better buildings, more efficiently, and using less materials, as well as buildings that can be re-used at the end of their life.”

Dr Gemma Jerome, from Building with Nature, talked about setting a new standard for green infrastructure in construction, amid a growing awareness of the need for green spaces in our communities post-Covid. She said: “It’s important for every individual to have a meaningful relationship with their environment. That means green spaces need to be accessible to everyone, and we must recognise that green infrastructure should sit alongside other built environment disciplines as an essential part of the planning process.”

Mark Farmer, from Cast Consultancy, discussed the need to embrace modern methods of construction, or risk the industry coming to a standstill. He also highlighted the need to consider the embodied carbon already in buildings and materials, and how to work with the supply chain in an integrated way, rather than designing buildings in isolation. “We’re facing some big issues around building safety, decarbonisation, and technological advancements, and we need to start doing things differently,” he said.

Sarah Lewis, from Passivhaus Trust, explained the principles of building to Passivhaus standard, and how it can reduce a building’s energy use and carbon emissions, as well as providing high standards of comfort and health. She warned that average Energy Performance Certificate ratings among newbuild properties have remained largely flat for a decade and, with the vast majority of buildings that will be in use in 2050 already built, there is a need to drastically retrofit our existing buildings to make them more energy efficient. She said EnerPHit, which is the retrofit standard within Passivhaus, can help provide a dramatic up to 90% reduction in the heating demand of existing buildings.

Paula McMahon, from SRM, explained why civil engineers are so important to the building of the nation’s infrastructure and housing. She said: “We’ve created things that have had a massive impact on climate change, and we can’t continue to be part of the problem. We need to think differently, and that thinking has to be disruptive. We need to bring carbon into every conversation to design and build the right outcomes.”

Kelly Harrison, Associate Director at Whitby Wood, urged everyone to think carefully about the materials they choose, and to make sure they always build in the most efficient way. She also highlighted the need to consider the embodied carbon in our buildings, and how we can match the materials to the loads they will carry. This is particularly true in building foundations, which often account for 20 to 30% of the embodied carbon within a building. She said: “We need to think about the life of the building, and make sure it can be adapted for other uses so that it doesn’t have to be demolished in future.”

Kat Scott, from dRMM Architects and Architects Declare, explored how architects can help tackle the climate crisis, and the need to move towards being carbon regenerative, not just net zero. She said: “We’re so lucky that we’re in a profession where we have so much potential to make a real difference. We need to share that message with as many people as we can. We can’t just be insular within our own industry.”

Sarah Broadstock, from Studio Bark, turned the conversation to education and activism, exploring the actions students can take to drive education and change the architecture profession. She highlighted resources including the ACAN Education group, as well as the Climate Curriculum Campaign and the Students! Climate Action Network, which are both designed to improve climate literacy in architecture schools. She said: “Through the education group students have the chance to be a part of these important conversations. We launched the Students! Climate Action Network to increase student agency, unite student voices and to enable cultural transformation. As architects we have a huge responsibility, but also a significant ability to act and respond to the climate emergency.”

Seb Laan Lomas, from Architype, looked at the importance of embodied carbon in tackling the climate crisis and decarbonising the construction industry. He pointed out that embodied carbon remains unregulated in the UK, despite some other countries introducing rules around the issue. He explained that modern methods of construction could help tackle the amount of embodied caron in the structure of a building, and said: “It’s critical that we do everything we can, but also that we focus on the things that we have the greatest agency over. Embodied carbon is responsible for a significant proportion of our domestic and global emissions.”

Allyson McDuffie, from Trimble, gave students an introduction to the SketchUp Studio software they’ll be able to use as part of the competition, which can help to accelerate all stages of the design process, and assess what the local climate means for their design. It can also show what shading solutions, lighting and architectural features they may need to make the best use of their product. Other software available to students, including SketchUp Pro, Extension Warehouse, Sefaira and 3D Warehouse, were also demonstrated.

Dave Edward, from designPH, showed the students his designPH software solution, which will allow the students to build models of their building design, including any information about the local area that may affect the building itself, such as neighbouring buildings, orientation and climate. The system will then analyse the building’s fabric against Passivhaus standards. As the design continues, built-in U-value calculators and other features can help refine the building’s energy performance.

Tim Martel, from AECB, wrote the AECB CO2 Calculator software, which is being provided to the students for use during the competition. The calculator was created to align with the RICS Whole-life carbon assessment for the built environment standard, to help users calculate their design’s total embodied CO2 emissions, broken down into areas such as materials, transport to site, demolition and disposal. It also produces a CO2 heat map for the materials used in the floors and walls, for example, including end-of-life assumptions for each product.

Timber Development UK is bringing the University Challenge in partnership with New Model Institute of Technology and Engineering (NMITE), Edinburgh Napier University, and the Passivhaus Trust.

The event was sponsored by Transforming Timber, AECB, designPH, PEFC, Trimble, the Timber Decking & Cladding Association, PH15, UFI VocTech Trust, Stora Enso, Accoya, Wood for Good, and Rothoblaas.

You can find out more about the Southside Hereford University Design Challenge at

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