26 January 2020

Meet the judges of the TRADA University Challenge 2020

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‘Goldsmith Street, designed and built to the Passivhaus standard, has opened the doors to a new form of architecture that values materials for what they bring to a project and not just their aesthetics. The holistic thinking and integrated teamwork behind this timber frame cellulose insulated build contributed to the project’s speed of construction, quality and performance, and delivered it on a restricted budget.


‘This is the third TRADA University Challenge and I am envious of this year’s students who will be learning first-hand from our knowledgeable sponsors, judges and supporters. A huge thank you to the professionals who are investing their time and resources to educate, encourage and enthuse our next generation of professionals.’


– Tabitha Binding, TRADA's University Engagement Manager


TRADA looks forward to seeing how the 60 students, in their interdisciplinary teams of 6, respond to the brief to design timber based community housing which is low-carbon, energy and water efficient, climate resilient, healthy and desirable on 17–19 February.


For more information or to get involved in 2021, get in touch with Tabitha Binding



Meet the judges of the TRADA University Challenge 2020


Toby Maclean, Principal, Entuitive

Finding the challenges in a project and confronting them head-on should be an engineer’s daily sustenance. Part art, part science, part guesswork, part judgment, part teamwork and part struggle, the work of engineers and their collaborators should be extraordinary.


And our work as engineers must not be blinkered or suffer from a not-my-job attitude; we hold great power individually and more so collectively and we should take a holistic view of our work. Understand the roles of other disciplines and the benefit of blurring those boundaries. This may mean, individually and collectively, we must say no when we disagree on equal terms as we say yes when we agree. The health of the planet counts for more than the wealth of either our clients or of us and so, alongside other ethical considerations, we must equip ourselves with the resources to practice our craft and influence our collaborators for the years and generations to come.


This edict applies to established practitioners as much, probably more so, than those just embarking on their careers, as past-behaviours and habits are no longer sufficient. Amongst other targets we should set our sights on timber, as the only carbon negative structural material, in a way that our past selves have not.



Dr Natasha Watson, Senior Structural Engineer, BuroHappold Engineering | Structures

Although our technical knowledge and skills are important, we as built environment professionals need to be more aware of the political and social impacts of what we build. This can be in the immediate and direct case, such as ensuring large delivery trucks don’t idle and reduce air quality in residential areas, but also long term, such as promoting sustainable behaviours to mitigate climate change. The more you can be aware of environmental, social, and political issues, the more grounded your technical work will be in the requirements of humanity and a natural world.



Tom Harley-Tuffs, Senior Engineer, Ramboll

The world is changing. Fifteen decades of industrialisation have left the environment permanently scarred by human activities, yet construction continues business as usual. Two decades of digital revolution have fundamentally transformed almost every industry, yet construction has fallen behind. Eight more decades will see an extra 4 billion people in the world, yet around 1 billion currently live without clean water or electricity.


Engineers graduating today must prepare themselves to tackle these challenges in a fundamentally different way. The world is changing, so engineering must change.



James Turner, Associate, Mikhail Riches

The TRADA University Challenge competition presents a fantastic opportunity for final year undergraduate students. This format introduces and encourages multidisciplinary working, which is excellent preparation for the challenges of practice. The competition brief is for participants to design timber community housing, which is low carbon, energy and water efficient, climate resilient, healthy and desirable. It great to get students thinking about multidisciplinary working as this is truly representative of work in practice.



Hannah Durham, Partner, Cullinan Studio

Buildings ought to be hugely generous, giving back enormously ... more so than they ever take. We should design always thinking of others from the full breadth of society, age and culture. Understand materials, the methods of construction and the impact materials and processes have on our world and people. Producing buildings is a team sport – listen and learn from the other team members and support each other to deliver.


My guidance to anyone (student or not) is to always keep on learning, have an open mind and enjoy the journey.



Rob Wheaton, Associate Architect, Stride Treglown

The climate crisis is the defining issue of our time. In terms of how we should design and construct our homes now, they should be designed to be genuinely low energy buildings to heat and run. We need to move towards the idea of growing our own construction materials: reusable, bio-degradable, using minimal embodied energy to make. There will be significant challenges and opportunities. A reduction in emissions to net zero by 2050 will require retrofit on a massive scale and all new homes to be built to zero carbon in operational standards. This will require bold and decisive action. Recognising this, we need to evolve our working practices, our understanding of materials and building performance. We also need to develop productive working relationships with engineers, contractors and manufacturers to create economically sound architecture and urbanism that has a more positive impact on the world around us.



Oliver Booth, Partner, Gardiner & Theobald

The TRADA University challenge is a unique and exciting opportunity for students across a variety of disciplines, who are about to embark on their professional careers, to collaborate as a team. They will have to show leadership whilst working as one, testing themselves over two days against their peers. The world is changing and the construction industry has to adapt.


Technology, DFMA and Precision manufactured engineering are rapidly evolving in what is being described as the next ‘industrial revolution’ and the world faces one of its greatest challenges in reversing the effects of climate change. Wood is one of the key materials enabling this change as clients want to do their bit in being truly sustainable and reducing carbon emissions. Engineered timber is becoming more versatile than ever before. However with all offsite manufactured products – it is a challenge and opportunity for the current and future generations to engage with the supply chain, to learn and understand these technologies better in order to estimate costs more accurately to inform the clients of the future.



Holly Birtles and Jack Dilworth, Directors, PLAN:design

The modern world is changing faster than ever as new technologies allow the rapid sharing of expertise, ideas, ideologies and data. Our understanding of ourselves and nature is continuously developing and it is one of the greatest challenges of our industry to understand how we can keep up with social and environmental demands, let alone anticipate those of ten or even five years’ time. We are in the privileged position of having a substantial influence on social and environmental wellbeing and, as such, must somehow avoid creating throw-away places that solve only the short-term issues of today while having little to offer future generations.


As we practice in industry we are under growing pressure to deliver faster, more reliable solutions offering economic certainty and guarantees. When we design it can be tempting to opt for the most easily offered products that boast ‘30 year lifespans’, ‘optimum tree health’ and ‘your flooding issues resolved’ (for now). As we study and practice we should remember that products don’t make places. Our natural environment is not comprised of single-use commodities and neither should our built environment. The natural environment is adaptive and dynamic. We should be inspired by natural processes and look to natural materials to inform design and provide us solutions to the challenges of modern living.


The evidence is abundant that we are happier and healthier when among nature yet in the rapidly developing world we risk divorcing ourselves entirely from it. How can we design for the future? Perhaps the best approach is to simply do our best. Our best means we take care; to learn and understand the decisions of the past that have led us to where we are now; to challenge assumptions with humility; to communicate well with others so our shared ideas meet open ears and stimulate constructive discourse; to try to understand the people who will be affected by our decisions and to understand that people are part of nature and to know the consequences of living without it.



Beth is joining the judges on Tuesday to give her personal insight on Passivhaus schemes she has worked on as as a structural engineer. She studied Structural Engineering and Architecture at University of Sheffield, is a Certified PassivHaus Designer and obtained ICE chartership in 2019.


Beth Williams, Structural Engineer and Certified PassivHaus Designer, Build Collective

In this time of climate emergency, the world of structural engineering needs to step up with a radical approach to environmental sustainability. Too often we design and build from the basis of ‘this is how we have always done it’, resulting in the problems being passed off to those least able to implement positive change. But I believe structural engineers can and should be part of the solution. Engineers are problem solvers – we should see these obstacles to overcome rather than stumbling blocks.


I am really excited for this year’s TRADA University Challenge – the theme combines two of my favourite topics: timber engineering and PassivHaus design. Timber engineering is a challenge above what most students face at undergraduate level. Working with timber usually involves jumping into the detail before many of the high-level strategic decisions have been made – thinking about connections, for example, before deciding on a stability strategy. Adding the PassivHaus standard into the mix really pushes the need for co-ordination and cooperation with designers of other disciplines; it moves engineers out of their bubble into the realm of insulation, breathability airtightness and ventilation. When you can see these challenges as enhancements and refinements to your design, rather than inhibitors, you can achieve the best structural solutions to the given problem.