Engineering and design student insights

Student projects, placements, research and study experiences in the Faculty of Engineering & Design

Introducing our lunar rover: Aqua Lunae

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📥  Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Student projects, Undergraduate

Author: William Easdown

Since October my team of eight students from Bath SpaceSoc, Aqua Lunae, has been working on a small lunar rover engineering model for the national UKSEDS Lunar Rover Competition. The competition challenges teams from UK universities to design and build a small rover to collect a dry ice sample from within a crater in a simulated lunar environment. It aims to teach participants about spacecraft engineering and give them useful project management experience. So how did we go about designing such a challenging vehicle and what did we learn along the way?

The concept

The first milestone in the project was the Preliminary Design Review (PDR), which we submitted on New Year’s Eve. In this, we outlined our concept and made estimations of management elements such as budget and schedule. We came up with our concept design by supplementing the standard practices taught by the Department of Mechanical Engineering with our own knowledge of the peculiarities of the lunar environment. I produced an initial CAD model in Autodesk Fusion 360 and it was this that we used as visual inspiration going forward.

Detailed design

After the PDR came the Critical Design Review (CDR), for which the team did a great deal of analysis of each of the rover subsystems (propulsion, control and sampling). They described what had changed with their design since the PDR and outlined how the rover would be assembled and tested. My work on the CAD also meant we had a clear picture going forward of what the finished rover would look like and how the different parts would fit together. Once we submitted the CDR at the end of March, we received some feedback from an industry expert, which we then used to clarify our intentions during a Skype presentation to him.

Build phase

Once our industry expert had cleared us past the presentation, we could start work on assembling the rover. This progressed slowly at first because of exam season, but after that the team dived into cutting holes in our chassis, mounting motors and printing the wheels and sampler components.

Two of our electrical engineers, Laurabelle and Izzy, also very quickly put our video transmission system together, which will feed live video from a camera on the front of the rover back to the control point so we can see where we’re going.

Jacob and I spent several days in the mechanical engineering workshop filing, drilling and printing to put together the rest of the mechanical components, after Declan and Peter had prepared the chassis and installed the motors and their controllers. Only the electrical system is left to sort out now before we’re ready for the big test day in July.

Rover prototype

Aqua Lunae, our rover

The final test

The actual competition will take place at RAL Space on the Harwell Science Campus near Didcot, with Aqua Lunae competing against five other teams from universities around the country. The rovers will have two attempts at travelling to the centre of a crater in RAL Space’s moon yard, picking up a 500g sample of dry ice, then returning to the start point. Between the two runs they’ll also be subjected to a vibration test that will accurately simulate the shaking of a launch on a Falcon 9 rocket, so the rovers will have to be rigorously built to withstand this.

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed working with my team over the past few months on what has been a very rewarding but also challenging project. We’re looking forward to running our rover at RAL Space to really put Bath on the UK student space map and can’t wait to compete again next year.


A meeting of concrete geeks

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

Who is a concrete geek: The concept of cement and concrete has been around for decades, one could even claim for millennia if Roman concrete is considered. Contrary to the common belief though, the long-standing presence of Portland cement in our lives isn’t analogous to our knowledge about it. Until the past century, when research started investigating cement’s intrinsic mechanisms, trial and error had been the only ways to manipulate its’ properties. Given its’ heterogeneous nature, there are still things to discover about the second most commonly used material in the world. All those then, who are fascinated by its potential and eager to unveil its secrets (including myself) are the ones to be called concrete geeks.


The meeting: This April I was given the opportunity to attend the “LC3 Doctoral School: Characterisation methods of blended cements” at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne - EPFL. It took place at the Laboratory of Construction Materials, Department of Materials of EPFL and it was organised by the team of Professor Karen Scrivener, Head of the laboratory and Editor in Chief of Cement and Concrete Research. From the 3rd until the 6th of April, approximately 30 participants from all over the word, from both the industry and academia, were brought together. Their common interest: cement and concrete science.

How I got there: I wouldn’t have been present at this event, had it not been for the two organisations that supported me. One was the Institute of Minerals, Materials and Mining (IOM3) with the Andrew Carnegie Research Fund and the second was the Armourers & Brasiers Gauntlet Trust with the Travel Grant for PhD Students for Conferences and Industrial Placements.

Content of event: The Doctoral School was an intensive training course about cement and concrete science, including lectures and practical sessions. The lectures covered a wide range of topics including both scientific aspects of cement and concrete science as well as geo-economic factors affecting its use worldwide.

A topic that received a lot of attention was the use of material characterisation techniques for cement and concrete. Techniques such as X-ray diffraction (XRD), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and mercury intrusion porosimetry (MIP) are commonly applied techniques for material characterisation. Although they are popular in a range of other fields, the intrinsic structure of cement makes it difficult to exploit their full potential. Therefore, appropriate application and interpretation is a burning issue in the research to obtain interpretable results. Other topics discussed were about common issues relating to concrete such as chemical shrinkage, creep, durability along with mitigation measures and principles of rheology and mix design.

The practical sessions took place at the facilities of the Department of Materials at EPFL. The sessions were hands-on and covered a range of techniques. More specifically, SEM and XRD for identification of cement hydration reaction products and calorimetry for investigation of reaction evolution. Also, methodologies for sample preparation for all these techniques, with special focus on samples for SEM, were demonstrated. During the practical sessions, the participants were given the opportunity to use the laboratory equipment and apply some of the demonstrated techniques themselves. Also, tours on the material preparation, concrete & structures and analysis laboratories took place. During those tours, the participants had the opportunity to discuss with PhD students, academic staff and technicians. This created an opportunity to explore areas of common interests and exchange research information. Finally, two events, a dinner and farewell lunch, provided additional opportunities for additional socialising amongst the organising team and the participants outside the course’s context.

My experience: The lecture “Cement and concrete in building worldwide” by Professor Karen Scrivener put in context how the earth mineralogy and geographic distribution of raw materials affect the use of cement and supplementary cementitious materials worldwide. Given the dispute about the environmental footprint of Portland cement, the availability of alternative supplementary materials is a burning issue in cement research.

The second session of lectures delivered by Professor Scrivener, “Cement hydration, kinetics of the reaction, aluminates & microstructure and final phases”, was an in-depth analysis of the hydration reaction of cement, the products and its kinetics. I found this lecture very beneficial and many of my questions were answered as I got a clearer understanding of the chemical processes I am investigating. Also, I had the opportunity to discuss some particularities of my own project and obtain valuable advice and material from the professor. Karen Scrivener is well renowned in the field of cement and concrete science for her research. Therefore, having the opportunity to discuss with her, opened new horizons for my work.

Two sessions that proved very beneficial for my project were the lectures “X-ray diffraction applied to cement” by Dr Ruben Snellings and “Porosity and microstructure characterisation” by Francois Avet. In the latter, the use of mercury intrusion porosimetry (MIP) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) for cement and concrete were discussed. Dr Snellings has been awarded the 2016 Gustavo Colonnetti Medal for his contribution to the field construction materials, while François Avet is now completing his PhD research in cement characterisation at EPFL. As mentioned above, the application of such techniques in the context of concrete is a matter needing attention. Given that the nature of the system I am investigating is much more complex than common concrete systems, I had the opportunity to discuss aspects of my project and get advice on how to manipulate the techniques to overcome the barriers I am facing.

The rest of the lectures, “Shrinkage and creep” by Julien Ston, “Concrete Durability” by Dr Hamed Maragheschi about deterioration reactions occurring in concrete elements (carbonation, chloride attack & alkali silica reaction) and “Rheology and Mix design” by Dr Aurelie Favier, were very enlightening. All the presenters were willing to share their knowledge, discuss aspects of my project relating to their field of expertise, provide advice and reading material or even establish communication with members of their team.

On top of the actual training, the opportunity to interaction with the rest of the participants helped broaden my view. The diversity of backgrounds, various places around the word and the mix of academics and professionals made the interaction very interesting and fruitful. We were given the opportunity to discuss about grounds of common interest, diversity of methodologies and approaches and of course exchange advice (as proper concrete geeks would do).

Outcome: Overall, I could conclude that I am very grateful to be given the opportunity to take part in the LC3 Doctoral School at EPFL. I had the opportunity to meet well renowned experts in my field, interact with people sharing the same interest and problems, get introduced to different perspectives and finally enrich my knowledge. The benefits are not to be counted only in terms of knowledge but also the opportunity to prepare the ground for future collaborations and develop as a researcher through the exchange of information with my peers.



The Destruction of Memory

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

Why is architectural heritage targeted in war? And what can we do to protect it? Based on the book by architecture critic Robert Bevan, The Destruction of Memory reveals the destruction wrought by instances of cultural genocide across the world. Through exploring contemporary struggles, including the ongoing actions of Daesh (ISIS) in the Levant, this film shows you both the war against culture, and the battle to save it.

On the evening of Tuesday 2nd May, ACE Society hosted around 30 students and staff in the Level 2 Studios of 4 East South to watch the film of “The Destruction of Memory” and discuss what it meant to us, personally and professionally.

Rebuilding of Ferhadija Mosque, Banja Luka, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Image: Derek Wiesehahn. Copyright 2016 Vast Productions USA

Rebuilding of Ferhadija Mosque, Banja Luka, Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Image: Derek Wiesehahn.
Copyright 2016 Vast Productions USA

We were fortunate to be joined by some special guests – Tim Judah, a reporter for the Economist on and author of several books on Balkans history; Ammar Azzouz, a trained architect and Bath alumnus from Homs in Syria, currently working for Arup in London; Ivan Gololobov and David Clarke, who teach and research in Russian and German Studies respectively, from Bath’s POLIS department.

After we’d watched the film and had a timely drinks and snacks intermission, we shared our perspectives on the film. This ranged from the historical, political and aesthetic, including some moving anecdotes of personal experience.

The following discussion was broad and challenging. We shared personal experiences of living and visiting cities recently shaped by conflict, and sought to answer the larger questions too. Will future generations inevitably repeat the crimes of the past? Is international law equipped to deal with these crimes? What is the balance in urban reconstruction between commemoration and moving on? There were few simple answers to be had, but much was learned in how to understand these complex situations – both as professional designers, and as human individuals.

The documentary unfolds in the crit bays of 4 East South.

The documentary unfolds in the crit bays of 4 East South.

We would like to thank the Dept of Architecture & Civil Engineering and the Edge Arts Community for funding and supporting this event, as well as our special guests for their time. It was an educational and thoughtful evening – a reminder that being the best designers and engineers is as much about listening as it is about speaking.


Passive House For All

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Please categorise your post

Passive House for all

The 2017 international Passive House conference was set against a backdrop of reducing carbon emissions in Europe and the need to divest from fossil fuels to meet both national and local targets. Energy efficiency is key to this and passive house standards for both new build and existing buildings were proposed as the benchmark for domestic and non-domestic dwellings

The conference theme was ‘passive house for all’, and ‘all’ had many strands and meanings, some of which were less apparent, but may in the end have the greatest impact on the passive house movement.

‘Passive house for all’ meant many climates, and examples were given from the very cold  to warm and humid climates. Each had their own the challenges, in cold climates PHPP is sensitive to very small changes to insulation and thermal bridges, in warm and humid countries delivering cooling and moisture extract are the priorities. The presentations showed that the passive house standard is applicable and achievable in all these situations and that solutions and products are developing to meet these challenges such as a theoretical MVHR unit that will extract heat and moisture from warm humid dwellings and use this heat to create hot water.

‘Passive house for all’ also means delivery at scale, moving from a niche market to district wide developments. The EU funded project Sinfonia supports Germany’s targets of reducing fossil fuel reliance. (interestingly Germany’s priority is to remove nuclear power from the grid before coal and gas). This can only be achieved though wide scale deep retrofit projects to existing dwellings. Deep retrofit was the only solution as undertaking moderate refurbishment risked ‘locking in’ less energy efficient components and interventions which may require further upgrading later, or worse not be improved upon for cost reasons.

Delivering at scale also means building bigger, and several examples of high rise multi-family dwellings were given, both new build and retrofit. Here the challenges are very different.

How do you test the air tightness of a whole building containing 352 new apartments when the plasterboard is being installed on the ground floors before the airtightness work has been completed on the upper floors? The answer was to create zones to test sections, this gave confidence to the air tightness strategy and allowed for modifications to be implemented through the build.

Building at scale will also impact on the choice of services, 352 MVHR units means 704 punctuations in the building envelope, so centralised systems make better sense for air tightness, and release precious floor area in individual apartments, which in cities like New York is critical. However, in existing buildings the layouts may mean that individual heating and ventilation systems may be needed, especially in buildings were there is mixed tenure, i.e. tenants and leaseholders. An example was given of in-wall MVHR units which are suitable for small homes and apartments.

In Austria where many apartment blocks have external render this could be used as an external air tight layer, which avoids complex detailing at intermediate floors. A new product which was yet to go into production was demonstrated, which could test the air tightness of external render before any insulation is added to ensure that it is sound and suitable for creating the air barrier.

The main positive from the conference was how much more widespread passive house is becoming and how a standard, that was designed for the German climate, is being adapted and developed so that is it applicable in a wide range of climates, countries and building types.

The negative, many of the buildings are still being developed as prototypes, with people learning on the job, many presenters said they would not do now, what they did in the examples they were giving. The challenge to try and overcome this so that knowledge and training includes practical solutions to common problems to prevent each building being a ‘first’.

'Passive House for all'  presents a challenge to the Passive House Institute who manage the standard and the brand. If ‘all’ means global adoption, it is likely that different countries may have different approaches. The US already talk in BTUs and R values rather than kWh and U values and China may create its own relevant standards. Worldwide adoption has many advantages, look at the PV industry where prices have fallen, access to cost effective components would remove many of the barriers to passive house, however maintaining quality is key and ensuring that the rigor which means that a certified passive house will deliver on its design intent, is maintained

image from

Image from


Drilling into polyurethane foam


📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

Continuing my investigation into the properties of both low and high density polyurethane foams and their suitability for 3D printing, the drilling resistance of test specimens was measured. Interfaces are a crucial element in 3D printing and the aim of the drilling was to discover if there was a change in the density of cured foam at interfaces and moulded boundaries.

Two types of rectangular block specimens were used:

Cut-edged specimens with an interface: The liquid components were poured into a tray in two stages. Enough liquid was poured in to expand and occupy half of the tray volume and once fully cured, a second quantity of foam liquid was poured on top of the cured layer.
Moulded one-layered specimens: the two liquid components were mixed and poured into moulds to expand and cure. Enough liquid was poured in to fully occupy the volume, therefore no internal interfaces were present in these specimens.
Drilling resistance was measured using a Sint Technology Cordless Drilling Resistance Measurement System. The position of the drill bit was linked to a software program to continuously record the force required to advance the penetration of the moving bit through the foam. Specimens were placed into position and clamped as pictured.


The results showed that the material was higher in density at interfaces and moulded boundaries, with the difference being most pronounced in the low density, high expanding foam – up to approximately ten times as dense. Drilling into polyurethane foam was an interesting and entirely new experience, with the drill gliding effortlessly though low density foam and the high density foam putting up a little bit more of a struggle!


Questions and answers on the Basil Spence project

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Student projects, Undergraduate

Author: Emma Moberg

In his introduction to this project, Martin reminded us that “vision without action is a day dream”, and similarly, “action without vision is a nightmare”. Even though I thought it fairly apparent at the time, I would in hindsight say that we have experienced quite a bit of both. The real lows such as the heartbreak of a cracked concrete model or a fatal computer crash, were all eventually overcome. I think the essential trait to our team has been our persistence; continuing to question and experiment to push the scheme further. I believe that the project has not only taught us to ask the right questions, but also how to provide useful answers.

Our Method:
Physical Models
The One Sentence

A dialogue through models

Our scheme developed over eight weeks of questions and answers, and more questions, a process in which the models were key. Imagining and developing a building in a team of four can be challenging if the conversation takes place only in words. I found that arguments more often arose due to miscommunication than actual differences and disagreements. In order to lead a constructive design conversation and share ideas between us we have used a wealth of cardboard and foam models. Also a useful tool in all of the tutorials, acting as tangible objects of dialogue. The model making has been effective in terms of communication, but also to test and interrogate ideas. We detected flaws and made improvements through continuous material experimentation.

Towards the last stages, our cardboard models grew in scale and were eventually tested in plaster and concrete. We spent many days, even weeks, sawing formwork in the workshop, testing plaster pigment levels, cutting foam and pouring concrete in the lab. We learnt fantastic things from the skilful department staff; Walter, Miles and Eve, patiently guiding us through the hands-on making. Obvious as it may sound; by building our building again and again, we developed a clear and coherent material and structural strategy, tried and tested by the critical method. To me, the confidence that this rationale of physical evidence and tangible iterations provides, has been valuable.

One sentence to focus our design

Often during the project we would be asked to repeat the single sentence that defined our scheme. Our sentence was “A monument to Oxford’s literary heritage” and was decided in the second week. While a simple exercise, that sentence on the wall was helpful in decision making and reminded us of the initial motivation and foundation for our project. Our one core idea evolved and developed rather than drastically altered. Although we had many days of doubt and indecisiveness, we were always able to gather in consensus around that core sentence, and thereby drive the process forward.

The group dynamic

I am incredibly grateful to have been through this exact project with these exact people. The dynamic within the group has been exciting and invigorating; I do really believe that we have played on each other’s strengths towards an end product that is more confident, clear and thoughtful than any of us could have thought of on our own. And in turn, inherent to our building is Matt’s wonderful clarity of thought, Helen’s conviction and drive for the scheme, Zach’s patience and brilliance and my own continuous efforts to question, improve and imagine our scheme. After the blood, sweat, tears and sleep invested in this project I am glad to see our Basil Spence finally come together. And, I am proud of the work we presented, which I believe is a perfect culmination of all of our efforts and the methods we have learnt over the past three years in Bath.


My semester abroad in Brisbane


📥  Department of Chemical Engineering, Undergraduate

Author: Nicola Morris

When I first applied to study at Bath I knew I wanted to do my research project abroad, it’s a rare opportunity for engineers that I knew I had to take! I originally wanted to go to Toulouse because the projects sounded perfect, but I also managed to secure a place at the University of Queensland, Australia. Anyway the Toulouse application fell through and all of a sudden I was booking a flight to Aussie land. Moving to the other side of the world sounded a little drastic, but here I am, and I’m so happy with my decision.

So in 2 days’ time I’ll have been here for 5 weeks! Time is going crazily fast and now I’ve found a weekly routine I feel completely settled in. The campus is beautiful, I’ve joined some societies and I’m happy with where I’m living! Before I moved here I contacted my Dad’s relatives who live in Brisbane, just to say hi, it turned out him and his wife had a spare room and were more than happy for me to stay with them! I’m living quite far away from Uni which is the only snag, it takes me an hour to commute but it means I get to take the ferry every day! In Brisbane the CityCat ferry service is very popular and is a great way to get around. Personally the novelty of travelling to Uni by boat every day still hasn’t worn off, I sit outside on the deck in the sun with the wind whipping through my hair smiling to myself, definitely beats First buses!

The project is pretty chilled as well, the days in the lab are long but we manage our own time and have a lot of independence. As ‘occupational trainees’ we are technically staff so we’ve even got our own office! I enjoy the fact the project feels more like a job than Uni, after 5pm I can switch off and go home without feeling any guilt! It’s also great because the weekends are 100% our own, so we’re taking trips to different places and just generally having a great time. 2 weeks ago we visited the Gold Coast, we took the train for an hour south and spent a night in a backpacker’s hostel – which is an experience by the way if you haven’t stayed in one before. We had an amazing beach day, then after a game of beer pong and rage cage (if you don’t know what that is you’re missing out) we headed out. The Gold Coast has good nightlife for the record. Last weekend we went to Byron bay, which was also an awesome place. It’s a lot less commercial than the Gold Coast but the beach is just as good, it’s a popular backpacker’s destination and has quite an alternative vibe - very cool. The highlight was trekking up to the lighthouse on 3 hours sleep to watch the sunrise from the most easterly point of Australia. Definitely make the effort to do things like that! It was a surreal experience and I’ll never forget it.


So the project continues, the work is interesting but days in the lab are tiring and take a lot of patience, but knowing that we’ve got beach plans for the weekend makes it very easy to tolerate! Last semester was very challenging and stressful, so I’m happy to say that I am having the time of my life right now, it’s such a breath of fresh air.

Reader, if you are considering travelling or going on exchange but aren’t sure, I’ll relieve you from your reservations… go! Even if you’re anxious, even if the first few weeks are tough, I assure you you’ll have the time of your life.



Unity, confidence and persistence on the Basil Spence project

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Student projects, Undergraduate

Author: Helen Needs

Unity of thought
Working together is the foundation on which the Basil Spence project is built. The integration of disciplines to create something inspiring is both an exciting and daunting prospect. Emma and Matt have been close friends since the beginning of university, and are now almost like brother and sister. My place in the team dynamic has occasionally been to balance this, trying to resolve slight tension by helping them realise they are often saying the same thing! We were incredibly lucky to have worked with Zach, our engineer, who shared our desire to create something more. He appreciated our architectural ambitions, and worked with us to enrich them with structural and environmental strategies which elevated the design to another level.

I think that throughout the project we have all endeavoured to not take the “easy way out” in any aspect. If ideas felt that their only justification was being the obvious, or easiest solution, we wouldn’t accept them. I think this unity of thought helped us create something with a truly strong concept, which stood the test of time - each of our moments of unwillingness to compromise has paid off. A new experience for me has been the sheer volume of models we have created during this project. As a bold initial move was the key to our design, considering its scale - modelling it from the outset was unavoidable. We tested any and every eventuality and suggestion given to us in tutorials, resulting in a rapid iterative process which allowed us to become comfortable with our scale and form. The process of making these models also meant that there have been very few instances where the team has not been “on the same page” with what we are trying to express.

Confidence to answer our critics

Throughout the project, my confidence has experienced true peaks and troughs, as has the confidence of the group as a whole. In week two our proposal began to be referred to by tutors and colleagues as something “bold”. A building of this scale, standing out amongst its context is not something I believe would have been any of our initial ideas had we been working alone. The reaction to this risk-taking approach was more often than not, positive and something we were commended for.

Whilst we were comfortable with the shape and form of the main building from the beginning there were a number of delays due to lack of confidence. This speck of doubt initially diluted our ideas and central concept. Throughout tutorials and discussions leading up to the interim review there was an “elephant in the room”, which surprisingly was not the large, bold main building. Each of us avoided designing these smaller modules - which were initially key to our concept. Just before the interim review these modules were removed from the proposal entirely. This move tested my confidence in the idea as a whole - however, it felt as though a weight had been lifted and allowed us to focus our efforts entirely on designing the central building. Our initial moves gained a positive reaction at the interim review, one major change to “tidy up” the diagram of our building was something we all agreed on. From here, there were more layers to add to achieve the level of detail we felt it required to reach its full potential - but it felt attainable.

As we planned our final critique, I was hit with a realisation of how deeply immersed we had become in the project. Going into the review I felt we would be able to guide the critics into elements of the design we felt best sold the proposal. Pushing and questioning each other and ourselves constantly meant when others asked questions - we had conviction in our answers.

Perseverance until the end

This was the longest project we have tackled so far in our university careers. It was an exciting prospect having the time to develop an idea so fully, but we've also needed perseverance. Once the idea of the “concrete box” was expressed, we universally agreed that some, or all of our models would ideally be concrete casts. The idea was beautiful, the reality was hours spent in the workshop, many failed attempts and ultimately - heartbreak. Creating formwork which we thought would be sturdy enough took days - only to have this be our downfall - the model could only be removed from its formwork by brute force. The concrete cracked, leaving us with only one or two intact fragments, the model was unsalvageable. Yet, we decided to pursue the goal of creating a casted model, just in a different medium. The end result perhaps was not as neat or accurate as we had envisioned, however the ceremony of opening it up during the review and revealing the spaces inside still achieved the desired effect and our time spent making it was worthwhile.

After experiencing the euphoria of winning the Basil Spence, knuckling down and ensuring all our thoughts and ideas were captured on our final report was a difficult process to begin. We had the well-known situation of “it’s all in our heads, we just need to draw it”. This week, having each focused on producing a section of the report, I have witnessed it come together into a piece of work I am immensely proud of and that I believe shows our scheme at its best - a place I would love to visit.