University Challenge 2019

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A multidisciplinary team of six aced this year's TRADA University Challenge, a high-pressure charrette-styled competition which invited participants to design “healthy” student accommodation predominantly from timber. The intense two-day challenge took place 8–9 February at the University of Sheffield’s Diamond building. Architects, architectural technologists, engineers, landscape architects and quantity surveying undergraduates from 25 universities split into ten teams of six, competing to see who could design, cost and engineer accommodation that used timber and timber products to emphasise health and well-being, energy efficiency, and building to budget. An existing site in the heart of Sheffield’s shopping district grounded and gave real life constraints to the project brief.


Team 9 scooped the top prize of £1200, closely followed by Team 3 in second place and Teams 4 and 7 in third and fourth. Quantity Surveyor student Andy Freeman from Sheffield Hallam University was Highly Commended for impressing Olly Booth and the judging panel with his knowledge, enthusiasm and application.


Winners: Team 9


Arnas Mikalauskas, University of Sheffield

Aleksandra Ziembinska, University of Strathclyde


Architect / Interior Architect:

Isaac Palmiere-Szabo, Leicester School of Architecture, De Montfort University

Louisa Keighley, University of Derby


Landscape Architect:

Emma Beaumont, University of Sheffield


Quantity Surveyor:

Cameron Timms, Coventry University



Louisa Keighley, University of Derby, commented: ‘[Working with engineers] was very new and really enlightening. It was quite daunting to discover how much information they needed. I’ve never worked with a QS to that level before either and it was really interesting to see how they worked. I think the knowledge gained in the TRADA University Challenge will be invaluable when I go out into the workplace. I’ll know what is required of me and what information the other disciplines will need from me’.


Isaac Palmiere-Szabo, Leicester School of Architecture, DMU, commented: ‘I was pushing to design something a bit more experimental and different to standard student typology, which I know can be easy to get wrong – surprisingly, we were the only team to disrupt the original footprint of the site. We had a really strong team and worked really well together; although at first there was a communication barrier between the different disciplines, after an hour we were all on the same page’.


Tabitha Binding, TRADA’s University Engagement Manager, shared: ‘I am absolutely delighted with all the students who participated in this year’s University Challenge. The degree of imagination that went into each teams’ designs was amazing. The knowledge gained of how and where to use timber and timber products is both practical and useful as students head out into the professional world. The multidisciplinary aspect has given them an understanding of how working holistically is so beneficial to designing, engineering and constructing quality buildings.


'Congratulations to Team 9 for their deserving win, but congratulations also to all sixty students who took part. I would like to thank the University of Sheffield, and our excellent team of hands-on sponsors, judges and ambassadors who worked tirelessly engaging, enthusing and educating. Thank you also to Wood for Good, who provided participants with The Modern Timber House in the UK'.


The competition kicked off early Friday morning and continued until Saturday afternoon, during which time students collaborated in designated design teams. Each team included two architects or architectural technologists, two engineers, a landscape architect and a quantity surveyor, none of whom had met before – creating situations and relationships comparable to real world project teams. Teams had open access to the judging panel of pioneering design professionals and knowledgeable industry sponsors, and the University of Sheffield’s exceptional facilities.


When 29 hours were up, #tomorrowstimbertalent teams had 8 minutes to present their designs concisely and elegantly to the expert panel of judges, who were unanimous in naming Team 9 the winners, citing their innovative approach and attention to future adaptability.


Universities involved in the competition included: the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Derby, Dundee, East London, Liverpool, Reading, Sheffield, South Wales, Strathclyde, Wales, Trinity St David, West of England Bristol and Hertfordshire; Cardiff, Coventry, Edinburgh Napier, Leeds Beckett, Newcastle, Nottingham Trent, Salford and Sheffield Hallam Universities; and Arts University Bournemouth, Leicester School of Architecture DMU, Norwich University of the Arts, and the University for the Creative Arts Canterbury.


2nd place: Team 3

Eleanor Harris, Coventry University
Stephen Johnson, Norwich University of the Arts
Jack Schroeder, University of Liverpool
Mateusz Szulca, Newcastle University
Wingsze Yuen, University of Sheffield
Isla Thomas, University of South Wales


3rd place: Team 4

Aston Oakes, University of Reading
Freddie Solman, Sheffield Hallam University
Joanna Kaye, University of Sheffield
Dachi Khutsishvili, Edinburgh Napier University
Fergus Paske, University of Sheffield
Carys Ann Richards, University of South Wales


4th place: Team 7

Elliott Wang, Cardiff University WSA
Adam Moss, University of Derby
Alexander William Mead, University of Bath
Naveera Fasahat, Salford University
Russell Giblett, University of Sheffield
Charlotte Orr, Coventry University


Judges’ comments


‘I had input into the brief to create a very challenging competition and the students had a lot to do. They’re not used to collaborating, but it’s exactly what happens in the real world. The competition has helped them begin to understand all the cogs in the machine. It’s about the whole picture – a student hub, linking the city to the community – innovating with timber.’ Alex Abbey, Cullinan Studio


‘We were unanimous about Team 9, the only group to ignore the convention of the red line boundary and change the arrangement of buildings around the site. Their approach was one of the most innovative in terms of combining post and beam with a modular volumetric structure. I think it’s really important to get students at this age and to impress upon them the importance of timber in construction. To get them thinking less about the old way of doing things and more about where we’re moving to.’ Kieran Walker, Waugh Thistleton Architects


‘When you’re at work, you get almost blinkered with how architecture needs to fit in with so many fixed issues and fixed challenges. To spend a couple of days engaging with students, who are all about creativity, is really exciting. I’ve never come across a competition which involved such a diverse range of different disciplines. It’s brilliant.’ Patrick Usborne, dRMM Architects


‘A great opportunity for me and for AKT II to be involved with TRADA, and to pass on our knowledge. I’m loving it – it’s a great event. The teams have come up with spectacular concepts.’ Ricardo Candel, AKT II


‘Having worked with the University of Sheffield quite recently, the TRADA University Challenge continues that involvement – promoting the use of timber to students. When I was at university we didn’t receive formal timber training or have this kind of competition. Everything I’ve learnt [about timber] has been post education. The students have come up with some interesting and unusual solutions.’ Tom Harley-Tuffs, Ramboll


‘I like the idea that you get architects, engineers and QSs in a room together and give them a defined problem to solve – but also enough freedom to come up with their own solutions. The parameters are loose enough that they can explore and then they’ve got two days to come up with a team timber solution.’ Jaffel Versi, Arup


‘The University Challenge was a really good opportunity to spend time with some TRADA members and meet lots of students. I like that format and setup – I think it’s conducive to team building and showing that QSs are an essential part of every building project.’ Oliver Booth, Gardiner & Theobald


‘This is my second year judging. The TRADA University Challenge is a really well-organised event, and a great opportunity for the students who are able to benefit from taking part. The standard of work that they produce in such a short space of time is really great.’ Stephanie Crewe, LUC


Many thanks to major sponsors Timber Trade Federation and STEICO, sponsor Stora Enso, and supporters Wood for Good and PEFC UK, whose support of the TRADA University Challenge 2019 made it possible.


‘STEICO became a major sponsor because, from our perspective, we want to formalise the relationship between architects, engineers and product manufacturers, getting them interacting earlier in the design and specification process. The TRADA University Challenge was the right opportunity for us; the students need to know that the decisions they make in design have implications in the real world and it’s truly important that they’re specifying products that they know they can get hold of.’ Martin Twamley, STEICO


‘The TRADA University Challenge is a unique opportunity for Stora Enso to see what the students of today are thinking and how they plan to build with timber.’ Jennifer Eriksson, Stora Enso


For more information about next year's competition, please contact Tabitha Binding, TRADA's University Engagement Programme Manager: