Four UK universities are to set up Centres of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design, in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Engineering. The new centres at Heriot-Watt University, Loughborough University, the University of Sheffield and University College London will form a national network to demonstrate and exchange best practice in teaching and research for a more sustainable built environment.

The rationale for improving teaching and research in this area comes from an Academy report published last year,  The Case for Centres of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design (866.15 KB) . The primary aim is to enhance the curriculum for undergraduate engineering students, enabling them to experience interdisciplinary, collaborative problem solving to help them unlock their potential for innovation. The centres will also help to provide continuing professional development to engineers already working in the construction industry.

The four centres of excellence will collaborate on delivering a common approach to interdisciplinary education for engineers while maintaining their own individual characters and interests.

Decarbonising our society depends crucially on tackling emissions from the built environment, as set out in 2010 in the Academy report  Engineering a low carbon built enviroment (1.46 MB) . Author Professor Doug King FREng is leading the initiative to set up the new centres of excellence. He says:

“UK Construction is changing rapidly as the industry assimilates new requirements for sustainability and new working practices. The education of construction professionals is also under scrutiny for its relevance to this new paradigm. The new Centres of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design will develop new research-led teaching for engineers. They will prepare engineering graduates to deliver the sustainable buildings the UK needs at substantially lower cost than is presently achieved. The savings will be measured in billions of pounds to the UK economy and a substantial reduction in commercial risk for developers.”

The universities will work closely with the construction industry to develop their engineering and architectural design courses to continue to be as relevant as possible to the work students can expect to do when they graduate. Visiting Professors from industry are a key part of this approach and will be heavily involved in developing the new centres of excellence.

Chris Wise RDI FREng – whose company Expedition Engineering designed the Olympic Velodrome - is a Professor of Design in the Engineering faculty at University College London, where he is keen to join up expertise between industry and academia. He says:

“Our vision is for UCL’s Engineering and Built Environment (The Bartlett) faculties to work together to grow the world’s best technological thinkers and practitioners in sustainable building design. To achieve this ambitious goal from our Centre of Excellence, we must educate a new generation of technologically literate students who are up to the challenge. They need to be contextually aware of the world around them and the buildings they live and work within, observing, responding, and interacting with their environment and understanding how to improve it. They need to be able to deal with rapid transformation of the natural and built environments, human ambitions and experience. They will need to communicate across disciplines and engage in a continuous dialogue between architects, civil, environmental and building services engineers, scientists and technology developers, the occupants of buildings, the buildings themselves, and the infrastructure which serves them. The new Centre will challenge us all: academics, researchers, industry and students and it has the potential to send its ripples far and wide.”

Heriot-Watt University’s School of the Built environment is well recognised for its excellence in teaching and research in sustainable building design, placing it in an ideal position make a substantial contribution to this exciting network. The introduction of the Centre will allow the University to implement an accelerated enhancement of its undergraduate and postgraduate engineering programmes, meaning that working within an inter-disciplinary design environment will be second nature to the School’s graduates.

Professor Lynne Jack, Centre Director at Heriot-Watt, said: “This is a tremendous opportunity for the School and for the University. It will allow us to better equip our graduates with the skills needed to challenge the status quo in current design practice, and through research and practitioner-informed interdisciplinary teaching, further develop our educational philosophy and provision in sustainable building design.”

Loughborough University takes in over 200 students every year on its construction-related engineering courses, which have been developed jointly with industry partners. Research carried out at the campus includes studies on sustainable materials, urban scale sustainability and the development of technologies to reduce energy demand.

Professor Jacqui Glass, who will lead Loughborough’s Centre, said: “We are delighted that the Academy has recognised the quality of research base and multi-disciplinary curriculum in this way. Loughborough students will benefit from an even stronger engagement with our research programmes in their teaching, which will enhance their employability, and the externally-facing Centre activities will enable practitioners to interact directly with cutting edge research teams.”

Sheffield University encourages its engineering and architecture students to undertake live projects in industry to help develop the cooperation, outreach, research and education which are key to integrating the principles of sustainable design. Professor Fionn Stevenson, architecture co-director of the new Centre, and incoming Head of School, said: “Sheffield is committed to producing socially engaged and technically excellent professionals in the built environment. Sheffield School of Architecture is at the forefront of pioneering joint programmes with engineering in the UK. We have recognised the need to upskill architects with new specialisms which provide a sound understanding of key issues in building physics. This is really essential in order to improve sustainable building performance.”

Dr Buick Davison from the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering and Co-director of the new Centre said: “With the support of the Academy’s Visiting Professor in Building Engineering Physics scheme we developed and introduced a unique integrated Masters programme in Architectural Engineering Design in 2008. This successful programme combines Structural and Mechanical Engineering with Architecture and is dual-accredited by the JBM and IMechE. Hosting an RAE Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design is a great endorsement of what we have managed to achieve in a very short period of time and will be a launch pad to develop further this exciting area of teaching and research. Working collaboratively as part of a network of RAE Centres of Excellence we seek to have a much greater influence in bringing about the changes needed in policy, practice and training in order to meet the considerable challenges associated with the design and delivery of sustainable buildings.”

Notes for editors

  1. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering Tel. 020 7766 0636; email: Jane Sutton