Timber Development UK’s (TDUK) University Challenge 2022 that ran in partnership with the New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering (NMITE), Edinburgh Napier University (ENU), and the Passivhaus Trust, culminated in a live final in Hereford, with six shortlisted interdisciplinary teams of 57 students presenting to a panel of industry judges and three clients.

Students and 2021 graduates from 57 UK universities joined the challenge to design one physical timber building – a vibrant, inspiring and inclusive sports, food and skills community focal point for the people of South Wye. The detailed designs needed to be ‘net zero’, creatively employing sustainable building materials and construction methods, and be energy and resource efficient, focusing on the health and well-being of people, the community, and our planet.

Participants formed interdisciplinary teams of architects, engineers, cost consultants, landscape architects and project managers to produce costed designs for a single building circa 800m2 with a budget of £1.6m, that addressed operational energy and comfort to the Passivhaus Standard along with embodied carbon to the LETI Climate Emergency Design Guide, plus a reduction in water consumption and an increase in biodiversity to the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge target.

Curriculums across built environment subjects teach little timber, rarely encourage collaborative working and are yet to get their teeth into the constraints of climate change. Through this challenge we address these gaps by inviting industry professionals to impart knowledge through a series of interactive webinars, which we record and upload to our YouTube channel.

We provide software packages that cohesively work together and workshops on how to use them so that our future professionals gain knowledge and skills that will enable them to collaboratively design buildings that perform, are long lasting, adaptable, and address circularity, reuse and the warming climate.

Growing Local, Belmont Wanderers and NMITE – the three clients for Southside, Hereford – joined our professionals to judge the student teams’ outputs.

“To be selected as the project for this year’s #TDChallenge22 has been a huge honour,” said Pat Gordon, founder member of Growing Local CIC.

“The Southside Build, a joint project between Growing Local CIC, Belmont Wanderers FC and NMITE has brought together three organisations with very differing needs, to the attention of this year’s #TDChallenge22 students.

“The whole process has been a huge learning curve, especially for the Growing Local team. We have thoroughly enjoyed meeting the students on several occasions over the last 12 months and were totally bowled over by the final submissions. We very much hope to use some of the excellent design ideas presented in the final build. In the current age, to be able to offer a project that can invigorate and help the #netzero agenda is both necessary and urgent. We all want a planet that our children and future generations can enjoy.”

“The #TDChallenge22 brought together interdisciplinary students, companies, sponsors, judges, and educators from across the UK, resulting in a phenomenal display of competence, energy and commitment to sustainability and learning,” added Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, NMITE president and chief executive. “I was proud to have been a judge and that NMITE was a partner organisation, and a host to the competition.”

The judges represented the professions of architecture, engineering, cost consultancy, construction and landscape architecture.

“The students tackled a tricky multi-client brief whilst tracking the golden thread of environmental excellence through their design iterations,” said Lynne Sullivan, LSA Studio and Passivhaus Trust.

“I have no doubt that the rigour needed to familiarise themselves with the Passivhaus design outcome will stand them in good stead in their career progression, and the judges particularly appreciated the enthusiasm and energy they brought to this through inter-disciplinary collaboration.”

“It is always a pleasure to be part of the judging team for the annual TDUK Student Design Competition,” added Kelly Harrison, associate director at Whitby Wood. “It is unique in nature, pulling together multidisciplinary teams from multiple universities to give students a real taste of what it is like to work in the industry, collaborating and problem solving with other individuals to meet a client brief. Not only does the competition do this, but it also gives all of the required skills and tools for them to provide considered and appropriate designs to limit their solution’s impact on the global climate crisis, an absolutely necessity right now, and something professional teams often struggle with.

“The entries were outstanding, the presentations were engaging and the answers to our questions were intelligent and well thought through,” said Ms Harrison.

Mike Whitfield, director at Mike Whitfield Construction Ltd agreed with the sentiment.

“I was really impressed with the commitment and team spirit that we saw from all the entrants,” he said. “A challenge like this is not about winning or losing. The main thing that all the students can take away from it is that they put their own egos to one side and learnt what’s involved in working together as a team. That is a real-life skill, which will be a great help to them, and a great benefit to their employers, in the future.

“The Passive House brief of the #TDChallenge22 gave them an opportunity to take their first steps on what will hopefully be whole careers of designing only genuine energy efficient buildings,” said Mr Whitfield.

Michael Hughes, associate director of Cast Consultancy, agreed that it was “an incredible event showcasing some of the future minds of construction”.

“The quality of submissions was incredibly high and presented by the teams with such great confidence,” he said. “Given costing was not a main discipline of the competitors, all groups approached the costing component with great consideration providing detailed measures and evidence of costs.”

Jack Dilworth from Plan Design and Anthony Thistleton-Smith from Waugh Thistleton Architects were also on the panel and the results were announced by David Hopkins, chief executive officer of Timber Development UK at an awards evening in Hereford.

The winning team brought together an interdisciplinary band of students from universities the length and breadth of the UK. From Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen to the University of Portsmouth, they produced a design the judging panel declared: “A strong response and a great integration of uses, with simple elements including a good use of structural timber used effectively and meeting the Passivhaus standard”.

The winning design was by Team 7: Alice Senior (University of Portsmouth), Malwina Bartoszewicz (ENU), Johanna Schwarting (Swansea University), Kyle Henderson (Robert Gordon University), Daniela Lopez (University of Gloucestershire), Ali Uddin (University of Edinburgh), and Deepak Sadhwani (Cardiff University).

Judges felt the design:

  • Minimises the required volume of timber by adopting a high-loadbearing timber I-joist superstructure across a small cross-section and LVL frame for long roof spans.
  • Proposed timber floor cassettes on rapid route foundations, which help minimise the use of steel and eliminated the use of concrete.
  • Has adaptable interiors providing maximum future flexibility and changing uses for the clients.
  • Includes a spectator mezzanine platform to strengthen visual connections between interior classrooms and outside football pitches. The additional height improves the feeling of space in a hardworking floor plan.
  • Nestles into the existing treeline of its greenfield site and re-uses any felled trees for materials where possible.
  • Challenged the budget and provided several options.

The judges also praised the PH15 approach, improving the probability of meeting Passivhaus standards and liked the landscaping scheme to provide biodiversity net-gain.

Team 1 was the runner up with “a lovely appealing building that sits well on the site”. Judges commended a good layout allowing a variety of activities, separation between organisations with spaces for collision and social mixing.

“A very strong presentation and a well broken-down sub-element cost plan,” they said.

A huge thank you to our sponsors and supporters for making the education of our future professionals possible: Transforming Timber, Accoya, PEFC, PH15, Stora Enso, Timber Decking & Cladding Association, Wood for Good, Rothoblaas, AECB, designPH, Trimble, and UFI VocTech Trust.

The 2023 Challenge will be on retrofit and extension – if you would like to get involved please get in touch.