Which of the 8 entries will win the Riverside Sunderland: University Design Challenge?

Which of the 8 entries will win the Riverside Sunderland: University Design Challenge?


Students have risen to the challenge to cut operational and embodied carbon by using timber and timber products in their housing designs for our future ‘net zero’ homes.

To meet our climate challenges and commitments we need to design and build to net zero, and whilst the curriculum has yet to catch up, we at NETTA and the TTF in collaboration with TRADA via our UEP program are leading the way in educating our future professionals on how the use of timber which adsorbs carbon during its growth and locks it up in use, is the best way to reduce our carbon emissions.

TRADA’s University Engagement Programme supported by The North East Timber Trade Association (NETTA) a regional member of the Timber Trade Federation (TTF) along with Sunderland City Council and the Ministry of Building Innovation and Education (MOBIE), launched the Riverside Sunderland: University Design Challenge (#RSUDC21) in February, alongside an acclaimed series of webinars on sustainable construction and design.

Almost 300 students from 39 UK universities participated in the webinars and workshops and twenty-seven interdisciplinary teams formed, to take part in the challenge of designing a one 3-bed family home in detail, and an indicative masterplan for 100 homes, which includes landscapes and streetscapes with green and open spaces against the backdrop of Riverside Sunderland.

The main material focus and specification for the homes was timber and timber hybrid systems. Housing typologies needed to be designed and engineered to be manufactured locally, utilising modern methods of construction (MMC). Homes were expected to meet or exceed the RIBA 2030 challenge and to be adaptable to meet the needs of living and working now and in the future.

With the pressures of study, work and COVID-19, it’s a testament to the students’ enthusiasm, thirst for knowledge and sheer determination that from the 27 teams registered, 16 teams made up of 87 individuals from 22 universities submitted entries which included a scheme images masterplan and home poster, a portfolio of their ideas including costing and carbon calculations and a video.

With 16 entries on the longlist, we turned to our professionals who had spoken at the February Webinars to shortlist eight teams. A huge thank you to: Jane Anderson, Kate Blackburne, Adrian Campbell, Florence Collier, Danny Garwood, Mina Hasman, Sarah Jones-Morris, Rob Littlewood, Will Mawson, Martin Milner, James Turner, Patrick Usborne, Joe Jack Williams and the team at MOBIE who took on this task and provided great feedback to each of our student teams.

The eight team finalists go forward to be judged by industry leaders, including Andy von Bradsky, MHCLG’s head of architecture, Mark Farmer, the Government’s Independent MMC Champion and a partner at Cast consultancy, Kelly Harrison, Associate Director of Whitby Wood and TDUK Board Member, and Dr Gemma Jerome, Director, Building with Nature, and Neil Guthrie, who as Development Director of Sunderland City Council represents the client perspective.

These judges will decide the winners of #RSUDC21 on Wednesday 30 June 2021, with the winning entries announced at an awards event that evening – if you would like to join us book a place here.

Richard Gore, Education lead at NETTA said

 ‘It is without doubt the most comprehensive and effective link to the University community the TTF has ever been involved with. It shows how we in the timber industry can come together to work with our future designers and specifiers to address the reduction of carbon and green house gas emissions in construction. The students have embraced timber throughout their designs – which many of them had not used previously! Every design is different, and I look forward to seeing who the judges deem a worthy team winner in this ‘net zero’ challenge’.

In response to the entries, George Clarke, founder of MOBIE said:

Students never fail to amaze me with their imagination, talent and passion, and this competition is providing a critical avenue to inspire young people to help define sustainable homes, and the future of where and how we live. Taking on the climate and housing crises is so incredibly important, and our built environment is key to creating a more sustainable future.

Sunderland, my wonderful home city, and the Riverside Sunderland site has provided an incredible backdrop to spark students’ imagination in this challenge, and I’m thrilled that MOBIE has worked with Sunderland City Council and TDUK’s University Engagement Programme. It is inspirational to see the future thinking designs that the teams have created’.

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said:

“We’re looking to build truly exemplary homes of the future at Riverside Sunderland, and who better to inspire them than future generations? 

We’ve been blown away by the ingenuity and innovation we have seen from those who have taken part in this competition and will be drawing inspiration from it as we move forward with our ambitious plans for Riverside Sunderland, our exciting new mixed-use urban quarter.”

We would like to extend a special thanks to our sponsors who have made RSUDC21 possible. This includes the Confederation of Timber IndustriesAccoyaRothoblaasTimber Decking and Cladding AssociationDesignPHPEFCAlliance for Sustainable Building ProductsWood for Good, and BSW.