CAT and Buro Happold get Wise

Buro Happold has been appointed structural engineer on the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education (WISE), a building intended to showcase the very latest thinking in environmentally-conscious building design.

The WISE Project is being built at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT); Europe’s leading Eco Centre, near Machynlleth in Wales and the architects are Pat Borer and David Lea. It has been generously funded by a range of organisations and individuals including Objective 2 funding from the European Union, provided through the Welsh Assembly Government.

The news has been welcomed by Andrew Davies, Minister for Enterprise, Innovation and Networks.

“The Centre for Alternative Technology has a fine record in developing leading edge environmental projects, and we are proud that this latest move places Wales once more in the vanguard of promoting world-class sustainable building design”, Mr Davies said.

Among the innovative features of the building will be construction of rammed earth walls in the Institute’s lecture theatre, the use of natural ventilation where possible, a biomass-fuelled combined heat and power system, solar photovoltaic cells on the roof and extensive use of timber. These features will help keep the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the building low during its operation. Use of local resources where possible, such as timber from stewarded forests in the region, will also keep control of the CO2 created by the construction process.

The 7.2m high rammed earth walls, which are load-bearing and made of excavated subsoil, exemplify this approach. The clay content of the soil means no additional binding material will have to be added. The walls are packed down in layers, using hand-held pneumatic compactors, between temporary formwork.

“This is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of rammed earth construction. As well as the energy savings in construction, the result is a building with a greater thermal mass than its conventional equivalent – ideal for a building with high thermal loads, such as a theatre,” says Toby Hodsdon, Buro Happold’s project engineer and a structural engineer with experience of rammed earth construction. Toby worked for six months at a rammed earth contractor in Australia as part of a study tour, sponsored by the Institution of Structural Engineers, in 2004.

“Rammed earth is also a surprisingly flexible material to work with, as the circular design of this building shows, and gives a more interesting, tactile finish. The project is a great and unique opportunity for us and we’re proud to be working with such forward-looking architects and client on this project,” Toby adds.

When construction begins on site this will be one of the biggest being undertaken and one of only around a dozen rammed earth structures that are built in the UK each year.

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