Building Physics takes flight

I am really excited this month to have finally reached the point of establishing the Royal Academy of Engineering Centres of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design.

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 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.

This initiative stems from two reports that I wrote for the Royal Academy of Engineering: Engineering a Low Carbon Built Environment and The Case for Centres of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design.

The first of these set out the field of building physics as one of scientific investigation into building energy performance, distinct from the activities of thermal analysis and building services engineering. It argued that an understanding of building physics was essential to the creation of low cost, low carbon buildings that save energy through good design rather than ecobling. The second report set out the first ever econometric analysis of the benefits of engineering education. The proposition was that by changing construction engineering education we could influence change in the construction industry from the grassroots. Graduates trained in building physics, energy performance and systems engineering would be equipped to innovate and solve future problems through design rather than ecobling. We developed a model for Centres of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design and evaluated the impact of the potential graduates on UK construction. This showed that graduates from just four such centres could benefit the UK economy to the tune of billions of pounds.

Experimental Building Physics at the University of Bath

Practical experiments in Building Physics being conducted at the University of Bath

We have now completed the selection of the four universities to pilot the Centres of Excellence concept. Loughborough University, University College London, Sheffield University and Heriot Watt University are going to try out this model for us. The four universities will collaborate on delivering a common approach to interdisciplinary education for engineers while maintaining their own individual characters and interests. Our common aim is, as Prof. Chris Wise from UCL puts it so nicely, “to work together to grow the world’s best technological thinkers and practitioners in sustainable building design”.

With the level of enthusiasm for this change being shown by these universities I am feeling really optimistic for the future of sustainable construction in the UK for the first time in a while. Just imagine what could happen when the benefits in student recruitment and outcomes are demonstrated and the rest of the UK universities follow suit.

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