23 February 2021

A round-up of the last three months on the University Engagement Programme

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From the second TRADA-sponsored Climate Literacy workshop, which Scott ran in November, through to Ciaran’s Regenerative Design, the UK-wide StuCAN launch, and the Riverside Sunderland: University Design Challenge, I feel that I am surrounded by people devoting their time and energy to raising awareness of our climate and biodiversity emergency.


It is only with their support and enthusiasm that I am empowered to provide the challenges, knowledge and opportunities that I know will make a difference.


Want to join in? There are plenty of opportunities below... 


– Tabitha Binding, University Engagement Manager, TRADA



Review of the second Climate Literacy Workshop from November 2020

Following on from the sold-out workshop in October with Scott McAulay of the Anthropocene Architecture School (AAS), we held a second one, with input from Nicola Mead of Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) Education Group and the newly-formed UWE Student Climate Action group. It was another success, with 197 attending on the night.


The climate crisis did not hit us out of the blue. It was forewarned and forecast for decades, and is having immediate yet disproportionately felt impacts upon society.


Our built environment is responsible for 39% of GHG emissions globally (UKGBC, 2019) so represents both a significant challenge and opportunity in the decarbonisation efforts called for - and ultimately necessitated - by the findings of the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5°C, published in 2018.


This workshop contextualises the climate and ecological emergency before placing the built environment into this context of crisis, noting its current impacts and potentials in the future.

Comments from attendees

“Scott McAulay’s TRADA-supported climate literacy workshop for students, which attracted almost 200 participants, was one of the most thoughtful, informative and honest events I’ve attended during over a decade of reporting on sustainable design.  Scott presented an extraordinary amount of technical information in a compelling and accessible way. Inspirational and empowering for all involved, including me!” – Hattie Hartman, Sustainability Editor, Architects’ Journal


“I thought the seminar was thought provoking and ideal for student architects. However, if we are to solve many of the issues related to climate change and biodiversity loss, I feel you need to get the regulators to the table!” – Tim, University of Hertfordshire & Oaklands College


“I recently attended the 2nd climate literacy talk you hosted, and really enjoyed it, i thought it was a great summary of a wide range of topics centred around architecture’s intersection with the climate emergency. It really inspired me to want to make a difference in my future practise.” – Ben, University of Sheffield


“I am totally absorbed and willing to get involved in your further projects, as I came into Architecture from Ecology, which is a rare opportunity to import the whole package of learning I accumulated there into my future Architectural projects. Architects who can operate in the ecology and environmental sciences field are rare and we can operate as intermediates to create a common language between specialists and a common framework.” – Gabriel, University of Suffolk


“My friend and I attended the AAS webinar on Tuesday; needless to say - we were inspired. We were hoping to enter the student competition this year to learn more about the use of timber in construction. We have both become student members of TRADA and are making good use of all the material! Thank you once more for organising such a motivational talk.” – Ellie, University of Bath


“The structure the presentation had was very useful for us to follow through and sharing resources and recommended books was also enriching. The word clouds helped us visualise what we are feeling and highlighted that we are not alone in the fight against climate change, so it was definitely effective.” – Lumie, University of Bath


The enthusiasm from the workshop participants to do things differently led directly into the development of the online interdisciplinary built environment student competition #RSUDC21.



Riverside Sunderland: University Design Challenge

200+ students from 35 universities have signed up to take part in TRADA's latest competition – and there is still time to join in. Students can register their interest for the competition and find further information on our dedicated webpage, and the CTI and MOBIE websites.


Built environment students and 2020 graduate from UK universities are invited to take part in this exciting and fun challenge, where they will have the opportunity to:

  • Collaborate and work as a member of a design team
  • Learn from a host of professionals at the forefront of modern construction
  • Shape the way we live and work in the future
  • Have their work published online, in print or displayed at shows
  • Win cash prizes


The team challenge is to collaborate to design:

  1. one 3-bed family home in detail; and
  2. an indicative masterplan which includes landscape, streetscape with green and open spaces, and 100 homes.


Homes should meet or exceed the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge and must be adaptable to meet the needs of living and working now and in the future.


To launch the competition and increase participating students' knowledge and confidence, we ran a comprehensive series of online evening events. These webinars are an incredible resource for learning about designing sustainably in timber and are presented by some of the industry's leading minds. To view them, subscribe to the YouTube channel or view the webinars on our Videos page 


But building to ‘Net Zero’ is it in fact enough? Should we go further? Ciaran and I certainly think so….



Regenerative design in buildings


Ciaran Malik challenges his students at the Architectural Association and Central Saint Martins to look beyond the conventional.


As environmentally aware designers, we’re often focused on balancing the negative and positive impacts of our work. Some have been questioning this balance; whether there have to be negative impacts at all, and could our designs only have positive outcomes? This approach to design is becoming increasingly popular, with more examples being built and often referred to as Regenerative Design.


Conventional design is at the left end of the scale; it’s the current common building design methods that have contributed to us reaching a climate and ecological emergency. It’s not the same as vernacular design, which uses local materials to design for the local climate. Conventional design uses materials transported over large distances, to create disposable spaces which rely heavily on active systems to maintain their internal environments.


Green design seeks to improve on conventional design. In some cases, this is by reducing the negative impacts, like using low carbon materials or using less materials. In other situations, improvements are made in other areas, but not really addressing the negative impacts that the building has caused. This could be using solar panels on the roof to balance the removal of trees and green spaces across the site. The solar panels provide a more sustainable improvement, but it doesn’t address the ecological consequences of removing the trees.


Sustainable design has long been used as the objective of environmentally considerate design; that the design won’t negatively impact future generations. However, the years of negative impacts have accumulated. There is an imbalance in the environment and were we to sustain current levels we would still cause long term damage. A growing number agree that we need to go beyond sustainability.


Restorative design seeks to repair the damage that has been caused and the positive impacts outweigh the negative ones. Through active interventions the environment and ecology are improved. This might initially require seeds, fertilizer and materials to be transported causing a negative impact, but if it restarts an ecological system and expands beyond the site it would overall have a impact positive.


Regenerative design is at the furthest end of the scale, not only seeking to renew but go beyond that and improve on what was there previously. Designs are implemented that mean the environment is better with them then without them. They clean water, enrich the soil, create more habitats and create cultures which can go on to repeat the positives.


Regenerative design isn’t easy. Sustainable design isn’t even easy. But the regenerative projects that are being produced are exciting, they balance multiple requirements and when examined show a sophisticated understanding of the place, the people and the environment. If you’re interested in reading more, I highly suggest looking into the Living_Building Challenge case studies and the RESTORE publications.


But we cannot act in isolation. Sometimes you feel you are shouting into a void. This is why I’m so pleased to see StuCAN emerge, and you're invited to join in…



The climate is changing, so why isn't the curriculum?


The Students CAN Campaign (StuCAN) evolved initially from ACAN's Climate Curriculum Campaign into an established, growing movement of student voice and agency. Within universities, there are little to no environmental preparations for future work in industry. Students are fundamentally being let down by their education, with an inadequate tutor response and nowhere for students to voice their concerns. This campaign offers students a proactive solution that fills a gap where the curriculum falls short.


“We seek to galvanise student cohorts into collective action; aiming to form university student action groups nationwide to create a network for students to challenge the inadequacies of their education.


Feel you're not learning enough about the climate emergency? Want to find out how to affect change at your university? Join us on Tuesday, 2 March, for the Student Climate Action Network launch.


Book your tickets 



if that’s not enough, what about energy efficiency? ‘Is PassivHaus the answer?’ was a question raised by the students and lecturers I work alongside and so we decided to question the Passivhaus Trust!


Demystifying the dark arts of Passivhaus

Thursday, 11 March 2021, at 19:00


If you like the idea of Passivhaus but have concerns – this event is for you. You can’t open the windows, it has poor ventilation, renewables make it redundant! Do not miss you chance to quash common Passivhaus misconceptions. Sally Godber, John Palmer and Nick Grant are ready and willing to answer the questions that you have always wanted to ask!


Register your interest 



Trees, timber and engineered timber products have their part to play in all our futures. Our mission at TRADA and the Timber Trade Federation is to work with students, academia, professionals, the trade, and relevant bodies, so that we face the climate challenges ahead together. Timber is one of the palettes of materials that designers need to understand, to be confident and competent with when designing and detailing, with both solid and engineered timber, on its own or as part of a hybrid structure, in both new and re-used buildings…


If we use wood, we must learn to use it both wisely and well. 


I’m here to help and, whilst travel is currently discouraged, I’m happy to deliver guidance, talks and lectures online. Contact me, Tabitha Binding, at tbinding@trada.co.uk.


About the author

TRADA’s Tabitha Binding drives our busy University Engagement Programme, which proactively seeks to encourage lecturers of architecture, engineering and other building-related courses to teach timber as an equal to other materials. To facilitate this, TRADA has developed a range of free teaching materials, runs high-profile design competitions for students, and creates opportunities to collaborate, uniting universities with members of the timber industry. Together with scheme sponsors TTF, Tabitha has coordinated and made possible student-centric experiences.