Rebecca’s blog: Professional Diploma, November module

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CAT’s November residential was intense; I feel I need to sleep for a week to absorb all that happened. Our first essays and practical reports were due in upon arrival at CAT, we stayed in the timber self-build again, and stayed up late adding final touches to presentations for the following day. On Tuesday, we each gave 10 minute marked presentations for feedback on presentation style, format and interim stage designs. It was great to see the range of approaches to affordable sustainable housing for the brief in Machynlleth. Duncan Roberts joined us for presentation feedback, tutorials and to give the architectural practice lecture.

With the MSc students we had four sets of lectures:

  • Ventilation and cooling systems, finishing with Ben Abel from Hilson Moran showing analysis and design of systems in high rise such as 30 St Mary’s Axe, the Gherkin, through digital environmental modelling visuals.
  • Water systems and services with a focus led by Judith Thornton on sewage, toilets, composting human manure and the technology to achieve this.
  • Moisture and condensation in buildings, especially in walls, and exploring the issues with retrofit insulation into cavities that were not designed to take the moisture build-up created by this.
  • Waste management policy and practice with Peter Wynn.

Friday was practical day; I took part in John’s Acoustical workshop inspired by results showing that the acoustical performance of green buildings is less satisfactory than in conventional buildings. Why is this? It is simply that it is a secondary concern to ‘green’ designers? Or is it a side effect of the material choice treatment within green homes? We used areas of the WISE building as case studies and split up to analyse reverberation and acoustical phenomena.

The surfaces of the Lecture theatre creates a large reverberation time, which is great for lectures when few people are speaking, however, the circular plan geometry causes focusing and ‘blind spots’ in sound resulting in difficulty with debates/discussions. Diffusion surfaces would help this but may detract from the unique acoustics of the theatre that make it a special place.

We also investigated the restaurant extension where we eat. Other groups had previously recorded extremely high decibel levels during meal times, experienced by having to shout across tables to hold conversations and not hearing words from anyone a few seats away, just noise. The room is clad in timber as throughout the building and has a large glass fronting that opens up to the courtyard. Digital acoustical analysis showed a long reverberation time and standing waves set up. The reflective surfaces, slanted ceiling and linear plan geometry meant single source sound travels to the opposite end of the room and is heard there as illegible echo or background noise, also creating a lack of conversational privacy when the room is relatively empty. Absorption may improve the situation, but solutions should keep to the style, aesthetic principles and the green credentials of the building.

Each week we also choose a structured seminar, I took part in modelling heat and moisture transfer in buildings, looking particularly at areas of condensation risk in various wall sections on a programme called WUFI. Taylor Roark at CAT is organising the sustainability zone at London Green Fair 2012 which a number of the Prof Dip students are going getting involved with, we had a lunch time meeting to discuss ideas and got the ball rolling.

On Saturday night, Christmas came to CAT. We arrived to Christmas Dinner, the tables set out long ways with candles – Hogwarts style. In groups we had prepared mini musical pantomimes – another good excuse for the tutors to dress in drag. The lobby space outside the lecture theatre was set up with a stage area and curtains, all us prof dip students joined together to perform ‘The sound of Greece nativity’ before dancing into the early hours.

There is a lot of work to be done this winter, January brings the final presentations of the housing project, lots of drawing, CAD and model making to do in addition to researching and drafting the next essays and reports. During this week we have become a lot closer as a group despite our usual geographical separation, 6 weeks until we are back, time is sure going quickly – next time in Wales we will only have one year left.