Gemma Temlett is a student on the Professional Diploma in Architecture (Part II) programme at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT). Here she reports on the March module, gives a flavour of why studying at CAT is so special. She also talks about what the group is doing to support the #SeeMeJoinMe campaign to promote gender equality in the construction industry.
We started the March week a couple of days early with a trip to Wolves, the context of our current design project. The aim was to get to grips with the city and Claire our heroic driver was first up, put to the test of navigating off Wolverhampton’s formidable ring road on the way to our first stop, a local Passivhaus school by Architype. While we had various visits planned in and around the city, we booked out a national trust bunk house in the surrounding countryside and set to work making giant pizzas and working on our presentations to be made on Monday. We turned the bunk house into our studio, Andy working away on his 1:200 models and the rest of us working on our laptops, in an industrious buzz around the big dining table.
Over the weekend we explored the house at Whitewick Manor, a fully furnished example of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and inspected it’s Victorian heat recovering ventilation system while taking in the Pre-Raphaelite art collection. It was a soggy Sunday measuring up the amended site boundary and a chat with the client before we headed to CAT.
It being International Women’s Day, another task for our Sunday on site had been to take a picture representing Women in Construction. Fellow student Kirsty Cassels had raised earlier the RIBA campaign to drive out gender inequality in the industry #SeeMeJoinMe. Immediately keen to partake, with my recent memories of taking my CV into offices and choking on the aftershave, we planned to complete the task in the week. CAT actively encourages women to work in male dominated trades and buildings scattered around the site were built by Cindy Harris, CAT’s builder for 17 years.
Monday was a day split into two groups for catching up on our project progress and marked presentations to hone our communication skills. Many an exCAT student that has come to lecture has renewed our confidence in the grooming process. Our group was tutored for the day by course tutors Trish Andrews and Pat Borer.
Trish in her Part 1 in the late 1980s at Strathclyde University had her own inspiring female tutor, Krystyna Johnson. One of the founders of the Scottish Ecological Design Association, Krystyna Johnson had been involved in Glasgow in the tenement improvement program, public participation in the 70s and pioneering architectural services within a community based housing association in Glasgow. James Irvine’s post from the October week talks about community participation and Ceinws where Trish was instrumental in forming a Community Land Trust.
After the last presentation of the day was given we breathed a sigh of satisfaction mixed with relief and caught up with the Masters students in the bar.
Lectures kicked off on Tuesday with a brilliant start. Lucy Jones talking on energy flows and thermal mass, former director of Earth building UK with a wealth of practical knowledge.
The next day was an air-tightness and thermal imaging marathon with Diane Hubbard, a former CAT student. This was a hands on session, checking the WISE building for thermal bridges. We moved to the self build accommodation to de-pressurise the whole building and watched as the cold air poured in the leaks! Diane helped us make sense of small signs that could be misinterpreted.
This week there were Masters students weaving in and out of our days doing thesis tutorials and presentations from past modules. A few of them courageously chose to do their presentations in the main lecture theatre and invited us along. This is the enjoyable flexibility that is CAT. Another MSC student and untapped source of PV expertise, Corneila Peike, shared with us a short talk on design opportunities with PVs, on her last module at CAT.
Thursday had arrived, finally! We started on our timber frame building that brought with it the satisfaction of learning by doing, getting grubby and the feeling of real hunger at the end of the day. Our team is working on the sandwich frame, using OSB sheathing to stiffen the two 95 x 50 timbers, creating a stronger box shaped beam. From the relative comfort of the Pole barn we watched the tenacious team building the Segal method frame in the rain. They quietly finished in a few hours and dispersed while others chiselled away into the night.
Timber Frame construction stop frame animation by James Irvine
The guest lecturer in the evening was Pippa Goldfinger from the Frome independent council, ifF. Pippa’s inspirational presentation was on the fun-loving council’s people-lead processes and achieving sustainable solutions for the town.
CAT brings together amazing people, gathered round the dining tables or coffee in-between lectures. We get to pick their brains and the practical, experimental nature of the people involved creates such a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere for sharing.
Fellow student Catrin organised the Friday night. Traditional Welsh cuisine from our much loved kitchen, music and fun was thrown together in our own mini CAT Eistedfodd, a Welsh celebration of the arts.
At the end of the week I jumped at the chance to get to know North Wales a little more with some classmates, partners and friends. Our trip ended in Felin Uchaf, an educational centre for young people, community, natural heritage and more that had brought some of our classmates together to build, years before the course at CAT.
Spot the Women in Construction photos?