Engineering and design student insights

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

Topic: Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering

Everyday tales for country folk...

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

cornflowers

I have been a city dweller for most of my life but my early childhood was rural with a herd of Friesian cows as immediate neighbours and the woods closer than the village shops. With such a background, The Archers has always felt like catching up with old friends and it was a terrible shock when the village suffered a devastating flood in March 2015. Time was suspended, in Ambridge at least, as the events of a single night were dramatised over several episodes. After the waters subsided the causes and consequences of the flood continued to be explored, intensely at first then periodically, as the village recovered and reflected.

Individual and community stories can be a useful source of information for understanding flood events but need to be used with care to ensure that they do not compromise privacy, security or wellbeing. This makes a dramatised story, where the reactions and responses of fictional characters can be explored in detail, very useful as the basis for considering how resilience measures might be developed and deployed.

One aspect of the flood that has been revisited has been the involvement of a certain Rob Titchener. He had been implicated in blocking a culvert that contributed to the extent of the flooding; he had been reluctant to help with rescue then hailed a hero for his actions; and there was suspicion over his involvement in the fate of a dog, Scruff, as well as the later disappearance of a migrant worker, Stefan. These were woven in to the larger scenario of his coercive relationship with Helen Archer, which reached a shocking conclusion last year.

It was as this story played out, that I discovered Academic Archers - a forum where storylines were discussed not just for their entertainment value but by experts with an intellectual interest in the storylines. So when a call for papers to be presented at a second conference was made, just days after characters had been discussing the drying times of their properties near the River Am, I took a deep breath and submitted an abstract.

By fortuitous timing, the Flood Resilient House at BRE Watford was launched just a week before the conference. Speaking to assembled built environment and insurance professionals before opening the house, Emma Howard-Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, emphasised the need for personal responsibility and welcomed the project as an opportunity to demonstrate and test solutions.

BRE FR House

This provided some useful details and photographs to use in my talk alongside mapping from fan fiction.  The house also featured on BBC Countryfile the next day though I am not sure how many of the audience will have seen it as the first section (08:30-16:30) was during the Sunday evening episode of The Archers!

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Bringing engineering to the Basil Spence project

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

Author: Zach Wynne


The 2016 Basil Spence brief

  • To evoke in visitor, user and designer the mystique and splendour of the railway station as a building type.
  • To use the station as a catalyst in the renewal (both physical and social) of the part of Oxford in which it sits.
  • To amplify the possibilities of station as a typology.
  • To foster a thoughtful and mutually respectful integration of the disciplines of engineering and architecture in order to achieve the above.

Our winning design

Our winning design for the Basil Spence project evolved naturally from our initial idea, that our station building should be a celebration of Oxford's literary heritage. We took the elements that were strong, that we believed were the core of our design and we refined and strengthened them, allowing the ideas to change naturally. At the same time we were ruthless when something felt like it didn't work, it was radically altered, no matter how long we'd spent working on it.

We agreed at the beginning of the project that this was our chance to do something bold and radical with both the architecture and engineering.

Perspective of the prosposed railway station

Perspective of the prosposed railway station

Overcoming design challenges in multidisciplinary teams

It was wonderful to see how different people with different specialties approached the same design challenges. This allowed the design to be fully integrated right from the start as people could identify issues early on, allowing them to be addressed in the design process and not worked around later in the project. It exposed me to new ideas and allowed me to work with a group of architects who were all wonderful, talented and patient people.

The project allowed me to develop my ability to work as part of a multidisciplinary team and to come up with radical solutions to challenging problems that encompassed not only innovative and honest engineering, but fitted with the architectural intent of the project and added to the overall scheme. I also had the opportunity to experience the wonders and heartbreaks involved with casting concrete and plaster architectural models.

A perfect culmination to my university education

“I could tell you my adventures—beginning from this morning,” said Alice a little timidly; “but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”― Lewis Carroll

This project has allowed me to delve into fields of research I never believed I would encounter; I have learnt the life cycle patterns of the endangered Euphydryas Aurinia butterfly, provided preliminary designs on a drainage system based on medieval agricultural earth works and been given the freedom to explore and provide feasible design work in areas outside of my comfort zone. I've been able to push the envelope of what was thought possible.

The beauty of this project is the removal of boundaries, to be encouraged to explore avenues which have thus far remained closed and which may never open again. I am proud of the work presented in this project. I believe it represents a perfect culmination to my university education, a summation of all work undertake in four and a half long years.

Section view of the railway station

A section view of our project

A civil engineer working with architects

My heartfelt gratitude to my architects; Matt McClusky, Emma Moberg and Helen Needs, for their undying patience and support. Most of all I would like to thank them for treating me as an equal in all aspects of the project; whether architectural precedent, scale modelling or design integration. I have never worked with a group of people who were as wonderful, caring and gifted. They made the long hours which this project entailed not only bearable but enjoyable.

 

The shed – a short essay on architecture and society

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

Think the shed hasn't made its mark on architecture and society? Think again...


Introduction

A large proportion of talk from us researchers is about the value of our research, why it’s cool and how it could help sort out a lot of the world’s big problems. And so we should talk in such a way. But once in a while, it’s refreshing and invigorating to divert our gaze from the lofty questions and terrible predicaments of our age – and seek something new in a familiar design.

In the spirit of one of my literary heroes, Alain de Botton, I shall take you through a short illustrated essay to restore the dignity of that architecturally misunderstood, true friend of humanity – the shed.

What contributions has the shed made to architecture and society? Bob Harvey [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What contributions has the shed made to architecture and society?
Bob Harvey [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of the shed is rather narrow, focussing on the domestic garden or tool-shed...

“A slight structure built for shelter or storage, or for use as a workshop, either attached as a lean-to a permanent building or separate; often with open front or sides.”

… so I shall expand my scope to include warehouses and their ilk, arguably siblings of the domestic shed. Are you ready? Let's begin...


Familiarity

Breeds contempt! The shed has an unfortunate association with either domestic or working drudgery, so it is prudent to remind ourselves that it has been revolutionary in human history. It has enabled us to store our harvests - it would be hard to overstate the influence of this in the development of civilisation. My personal favourite example of this ‘early revolutionary shed’ has to be the Egyptians’ Granary structure in the popular PC game, Age of Empires. I don’t know of its archaeological accuracy, but what a thing of beauty!

Granary of the Egyptian civilisation in the Stone Age, as portrayed in Age of Empires I. Courtesy of Microsoft Studios.

Granary of the Egyptian civilisation in the Stone Age, as portrayed in Age of Empires I. Courtesy of Microsoft Studios.

Our ability to store food in warehouses is still vitally important today. How easy it is to take all this once revolutionary technology for granted today.

Although less true for foodstuffs, much is made of the influence of the digital retail economy’s influence on the urban built environment - its erosion of high streets and town centres. But it’s false to suggest that the web has dispensed with the need for retail buildings altogether. The enormous warehouses belonging to retail giants such as Amazon, Tesco, and notoriously, Sports Direct, are now the physical link in the fiendish process of sourcing and despatching products to and from around the world. Whether you love, loathe or tolerate them, these corporate behemoths who facilitate much of our daily lives with their logistical feats are, at the end of the day, still dependent upon the humble shed.

The enormous Sports Direct HQ and warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, UK.

The enormous Sports Direct HQ and warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, UK. Ian Paterson [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Atmosphere

Many domestic sheds across the land are witness to nothing more remarkable than lawnmowers, long-forgotten trampolines and perhaps the odd model railway set, yet the shed is the prime haven for the discoverer and inventor.

Is it the freedom from distraction, protection from mocking voices or simply convenience has made the domestic shed the place of so much human ingenuity? Whatever its x-factor is, it has been birthplace for a plethora of advances, as diverse as Marie Skłodowska Curie and Pierre Curie’s early experiments on new elements to Sir James Dyson’s invention of the bagless vacuum cleaner.

The inspirational and architectural potential of the shed as resurged in recent years - perhaps by people seeking something lacking in their homes.

Marie Skłodowska Curie and Pierre Curie doing some Nobel-Prize winning work in their shed.

Marie Skłodowska Curie and Pierre Curie doing some Nobel-Prize winning work in their shed.


Aesthetics

Cobwebs and some slightly wonky pine slats are de rigeur for most domestic sheds, whilst numbingly vast sheets of corrugated sheet metal are the look of choice for their industrial brethren. But this has not always been the case, and still is not always so. I shall use counter-examples that I have encountered on my travels in Somerset.

The Tithe Barn in Bradford-on-Avon impresses firstly by scale - it stands 51 metres long and 9.5 metres wide. Venturing inside, it reveals its astonishing craftsmanship – a timber cruck roof, most of which has survived from the 14th century, supported by the buttressed walls of fine limestone. Perhaps such grandeur is unsurprising, as it was built to serve Shaftesbury Abbey in Dorset, at that time the richest nunnery in England. Although I’m glad to see the back of the feudal system it facilitated, surely there is no finer shed then this in the land?

The stunning cruck roof of the Tithe Barn in Bradford-on-Avon, Somerset, UK. Courtesy of English Heritage.

The stunning cruck roof of the Tithe Barn in Bradford-on-Avon, Somerset, UK. Courtesy of English Heritage.

In more recent history is the Bath branch of discount supermarket Lidl, built in 1966-67. Originally built as a factory for a manufacturer of office furniture, I have judiciously deemed it an honourary member of the shed family as it was built as a single interior space. What makes it special is only visible once inside – influenced by the style of Mies van der Rohe, it was the first building in Britain to make use of Mero space frame technology for its roof trusses. On a social level, it was architecturally notable for having no partitions between craftspeople and managers. Converted to a Lidl within the last 5 years, one can admire the spectacular geometry above your head whilst in an achingly long checkout queue.

The roof trusses of Lidl in Bath, using a Mero space frame. Courtesy of Phil Turton / Historic England.

The roof trusses of Lidl in Bath, using a Mero space frame. Courtesy of Phil Turton / Historic England.


Conclusions

This statement might seem cheesier than a budget Parmesan - but sheds are really a lot like us humans. Though often seemingly dull, they often have the capacity to dazzle, either in the appearance or the activities they facilitate. And even when they really do seem dull, they fulfil critical functions in our societies incredibly well. How we’d miss them if they were gone.

 

Final blog post about my time at DTU, Copenhagen

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering

Hello,

I thought it would be a good idea to do one final blog post about my time in Copenhagen, as I have now finished at the Danish Technical University. If anyone is hesitant or unsure about whether to go for this opportunity, my advice would be to go for it!!!! I would recommend it 100% and I have had an absolutely amazing time in Denmark! I was quite sad to be leaving in the end! It has been really interesting and fun to meet lots of new people, see a new city/country, live abroad for the first time and not forgetting to study in a new way/style!

I think my last blog post was during the autumn break you get whilst studying at the University. Since this point, the work load did pick up considerably and around Christmas it became very busy, but I thought this was also due to the fact that this was when I was applying for Graduate Schemes for next year and completing interviews which took up a considerable amount of time. Not just because the workload being so heavy, it is unattainable to keep up with. However, personally I feel that being abroad does not hinder any applications at all; it is just different. This because no one around you is applying for jobs at the same time so you really have to look at balancing your time effectively. I have also had to fly home a few times for interviews/assessment centres and I have found that companies were fine with reimbursing me for flights and train travel in England. It was just a bit of a hassle. So don’t let this put you off! Also it is a really good conversation opener, when they ask how far have you had to travel in today and they seemed really interested by Copenhagen.

I will start by talking about my accommodation. As mentioned the accommodation by the University is extremely lacking and unorganised! Finding something private in town is a bit tricky but I wouldn’t say completely unachievable. I ended up really loving my student halls (Tingbjerg Terraserne), it was nice to share with people studying different degrees at different universities in the city and it was very social. The halls were of a lot higher standard than others I visited across Copenhagen, and the rooms were a really good size. The location wasn’t perfect, but certainly had the best of both. We were a 40 minute cycle away from the University which wasn’t so bad and then 30 minutes into town (a really nice cycle in, through a nice part of the town too). I felt this was probably the best place to be for us, as we were not so far away from town that we wouldn’t go in but were not so far away University either! Maybe the summer weather would have made the cycle easier!

The social side of the Erasmus placement was really fun! There was always something to do and see, or people to go out with! The nightlife in Copenhagen was more restricted than Bath to Thursday through to Saturday night realistically (not something every night it seemed); however it was a good night out with plenty of bars and clubs. Also the University organised a lot of nights for us to get involved in. Everyone is in the same boat as you, so are really keen to get involved - so don’t worry about not knowing anyone. The city itself is really amazing, I was lucky to have a lot of friends over for weekends and I never ran out of anything new to show people or see. There are some very cool regions/districts with lots of cafes and bars, meaning that there is something for everyone.  Also, as I had worked over summer, I managed to get about at weekends too, doing road trips around the country and across to Sweden – which if you can you should take advantage of.

The studying at the University was certainly very different to at home, with four hour blocks for each module just once a week. However by the end I did quite enjoy this style – as it meant you could get straight onto the tutorial and get help from the teachers. I will run through (Briefly) my thoughts on the modules I took before Christmas and then talk about the 3 week intensive course you can do in January.

Sustainable Buildings – A 10 Credit module (Double) but I would recommend this module which has a very strong building environment focus. It uses software such as IDA ICE and Heat 2 to build up to designing a “Nearly Zero Energy Building” to Danish standards. I found the lectures and assignments very interesting, and once you get your head around the software and what is being asked of you – it is really enjoyable. If you keep up with the deadlines (This course is all assignments) throughout the term, it makes it achievable as you develop your skills for the next assignment.

Rock Physics and Rock Mechanics – I personally really liked this module, it had a petroleum engineering and tunnelling focus for the application of geotechnics. I found this really interesting that all the lecture material was related to real life situations and to applied situations. The exam (100% exam) was very tough I will admit, but despite this the lecturer and teaching assistant were really nice.

Structural Analysis – This module again is 100% coursework, using Danish building codes to design an office and retail structure. It takes it a lot further than that taught during second year and some of the assignments were tricky. Each week you have a new assignment to complete, which you then write up at the end of term. This is very taxing, as it actually takes a long time to write up! Therefore budget your time for this alongside your revision. However I would recommend you take this module.

Smart, Connected and Liveable Cities – I didn’t really enjoy this module. The assignments themselves were really interesting, however, the lectures were not related to them at all and just general knowledge which personally I felt were very dull – I didn’t look forward to Tuesday afternoons! The assignments consisted of writing a book review on George Orwells 1984 focusing on urban design, writing a dystopian story again focusing on urban design. We also had a group report and presentation on a topic of your choice, from which we choose to do city resilience to climate change. In particular we focused on rising sea levels and looked at the viability of options such as floating cities or floodable cities. In the end this worked really well for me, as my group was with five really nice and good people. But I could imagine you may get a bit unstuck doing this, as a few of the presentations were quite poor. The work load was heavy; however, don’t let my view completely put you off – as a few people really enjoyed the lectures.

As I have mentioned before you have to take 30 credits at DTU, I opted (along with the others from Bath) to do 25 before Christmas and a 5 credit “intensive course” after Christmas. This module was environmental engineering in developing countries. I personally really wanted to come back after Christmas, as it helped to reduce the work load before the holidays and gave me more time in Denmark to enjoy it! However, if you choose not to, you would get a very long holiday till when you get back to Bath. This January option isn’t taken up by most people, as a lot of my friends (nearly all from DTU) left before Christmas so there wasn’t many of us left after but despite this it was still fun! The course itself was really interesting (in 9-5 every day) looking at methods to improve sanitation, water supply and waste management. There were really good guest lecturers nearly every day, and the assignment in groups was a real life case study in an area of the world, to improve these things so it was very interesting. We had a final report as a hand in, with weekly presentations on our progress and also weekly tests to make sure we were turning up. I would certainly recommend this course, as it gets you back to Denmark (Also for New Year’s celebrations (as the course started on the 2nd) which was something very different to home!!!) and is enjoyable.

The only one slight negative I would say about the whole Erasmus experience is the price in Denmark. I worked for 13 weeks over summer before I went out there, so I didn’t struggle too bad. But, Denmark is an expensive place so just be prepared and it won’t be such a shock! But don’t let this put you off, just try to work a little over summer before you get here!!!

I really hope these blog posts have inspired you to do Erasmus at DTU, as I do not regret going one bit and I have really enjoyed it! It has been a great experience and I have made lots of friends who I will definitely see again.  One big word of advice would be to go and get involved in everything, especially the introduction week as this is where I met a lot of my friends from the whole time there!
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask and I will be more than happy to help.

 

Lifelong Learning - sharing a love of Structures

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

Clifton Suspension Bridge from the Observatory platform

Every student is different but mature students have had more time than most to accumulate differences! In my case, I have returned to study having worked in practice, qualified as a Chartered Structural Engineer, had children and taught at a post-92 University. But in each stage of this traverse through my portfolio career, I have been grateful for the support and inspiration of the Institution of Structural Engineers. This has included, but by no means been limited to, technical talks offering a window on others' experience. It is perhaps easy to take these for granted with the luxury of a choice of research seminars and talks on campus almost every week, but for Engineers outside research-intensive Universities the talks provide a valuable connection and opportunity for professional development. However, as a parent, it can be difficult to attend meetings, even when they are local. Six pm starts are great for those able to go straight from work but are not so easy when the logistics of juggling after school and evening childcare means dashing home before hand!

So I was delighted to see that the Institution of Structural Engineers President’s Inaugural Address this year was to be made available on Livestream. It was still challenging to get the children rounded up and fed for 6pm so it was a few minutes after that I tuned in but without the embarrassment of clunking doors and finding the last remaining seat. And as a remote viewer, fire evacuation procedures were of limited relevance in any case! By the time 2017 President, Ian Firth, started speaking, I was happily settled and beginning to appreciate further benefits. As a shorter than average Engineer, I am used to seeing only part of presentation slides unless the lecture theatre has a particularly generous rake or I have managed to get right to the front. This time I could see every slide and hear every word. The talk itself was interesting and entertaining; well worth catching up with as a webinar if you missed it live.

But an unexpected benefit of an evening webinar was revealed later. I’ve previously tended to join lunchtime events, linking to ICE Yorkshire for Jenny Cooke’s "Lunch and Learn" talk on Communicating Climate Change (still available) and to the BRE for an update on Peter Bonfield’s Property Flood Resilience Action Plan. These took place whilst my children were at school but with an evening meeting they were at home. My son first walked through as pictures of buildings following natural disasters were on the screen. He quickly concluded that Structural Engineers were not yet rivalling Danger Mouse in keeping London safe and returned to the TV. However, about a quarter of an hour later he rejoined me, just as Ian Firth was talking about the need for bridges in poor developing societies. This really grabbed his attention, not just because the children were of a similar age but because he also relies on a bridge for his daily walk to and from school, across the River Frome in Bristol.

Boy crossing river on an old footbridge

Hapenny Bridge across the River Frome, Bristol

He continued to watch with me through to the end, though was rather dismissive of the Robot Bridge Building as he’d seen it all before on Dick & Dom’s Absolute Genius: Monster Builds! The next day on our walk to school, we were able to discuss the talk further and think about how he would improve the bridge. This led rather neatly into a weekend where we saw both Second Severn Crossing and the Clifton Suspension Bridge from unusual perspectives.

Second Severn Crossing from Spaniorum

A privileged view of the Second Severn Crossing

So thank you IStructE for allowing me the opportunity to see such an interesting talk - and thank you Ian Firth for inspiring not only me but a 10 year old who is already considering whether he might be able to follow Brunel beyond the Avon Gorge.

An edited version of this blog is available on the IStructE website

 

HIGH DENSITY POLYURETHANE FOAMS

  

📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

My PhD project, looking at materials suitable for 3D printing buildings using swarming aerial robots, began with investigating low density, expanding polyurethane foam ‘LD40’ (a) manufactured by the company Isothane. Now it is the turn of high density polyurethane foams, and the studies have used Reprocell 300 (b) and Reprocell 500 (c), commercially available foams manufactured by the same company.

foam

While LD40 is established in the construction industry as an insulating material, the higher density foams are not readily associated with construction. Reprocell 300 is usually found as a substitute for timber in prop and set design along with applications such as balustrades and mantelpieces, whereas Reprocell 500 is primarily used for deep sea buoyancy applications.

Blocks of foam created so that the materials may be tested in line with the British standards, have been primarily made by hand mixing on the high density foams, such as the compressive strength test specimens shown in the figure.

Through trial and error, I arrived at a recipe for making the high density specimens. Firstly, I heat the two liquid components (one resin, one hardening agent) to 30°C, pour together and hand-mix for 90 seconds. The creamy, viscous liquid then turns a darker brown and becomes much less viscous as the mixed liquid heats up and the polymerisation process begins. I then stir again until the 150 second mark, at which point the material expands. A few more careful stirs then follow until I withdraw and the material quickly hardens, becoming solid at 180 seconds and feeling like a block of concrete.

This recipe has produced specimens which exceed the density stated in the manufacturer’s literature, most notably with the Reprocell 500 (specimens average 685 kg/m3). Compressive tests on the 500 have shown strength in excess of 30 MPa, astonishingly competitive with concrete. Flexural tests have also shown strengths indicating the material is competitive with the lower range of timbers. Reprocell 300 has around a third of the compressive strength of the 500.

Reprocell 500 has therefore shown that it has potential to be a structural material. The downside of denser specimens of course is that the material does not expand quite so freely so I am having to use more of the liquid components!

Making 500 specimens with my little syringe device outlined in the previous post has proved to be challenging. Despite experimenting with longer tubing and multiple static mixers, the material is being deposited in its creamy viscous state, and then the darker / hotter / thinner / runnier phase is occurring on the surface of the mat after deposition, leading to lateral spreading.

After the current round of tests are complete, several options will be investigated, most notably whether a catalyst may be applied to speed up the reaction time and the investigation of whether particles can be added to the material to favourably alter its rheological properties – these may include clay nanoparticles, graphene, carbon fibres, or ways to combine the lower density foam with the higher density foam.

Barrie Dams 19/01/2017

 

A very Bavarian Christmas!

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Undergraduate

Very early on in deciding to undertake the Erasmus semester I knew I wanted to maximise my cultural experience and spend as much time as physically possible in Germany. Therefore I stayed in Munich over the Christmas holidays in order to experience a proper German Christmas and to use the time off of lectures to travel more widely. So as lectures ended I waved goodbye to my friends and colleagues, however  it wasn't all lonely however as my partner, Kathryn, came to stay!!

The Christmas buzz in Munich really gets underway at the end of November when the Christkindlsmarkts (Christmas markets) come out in force. Having experienced the Bath Christmas market I thought I was prepared, however the number and scale of the markets in Germany made Bath look tiny in comparison! Every district of Munich seemed to have its own local market (my "local", in Schwabing, was especially pretty and focused on the arts and crafts of the area)  as well as the huge ones in town catering to every taste possible. Instead of the major shopping experience we seem to have in the UK the markets here are more of a destination to meet and socialise with friends, drinking Glühwein and eating Heiße Maroni around the outside tables. My favourite market was the "medieval market" at Wittelsbacherplatz - themed in a medieval style with the huts and vendors dressed appropriately, it was a lot of fun to be shopping for axes and bows eating a Flammbrot (like a german answer to the pizza) avoiding the sword-fighting going on behind - Brilliant! And in the evenings when the lights were out it was truly magical to wander the streets of the old city stumbling across market after market in under the twinkling lights...

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Christmas Markets of Munich! 

Christmas eve is the main event for most of Bavaria with Midnight mass being the "unmissable" event to attend so e we wrapped up warm and headed down to the local church at 11:00 pm. Singing Stille Nacht in a huge catholic church lit by candle light was a great way of entering Christmas. For breakfast we had the typical Bavarian breakfast of pretzel, white sausage and sweet mustard (washed down with large mugs of tea!) and then moved on to attempting to cook a Christmas dinner without an oven on just two electric rings - fairly successfully I have to add! After lunch a brisk walk in the English garden and then back to open presents. Skyping home to our family and playing some cards ended off one of the most memorable Christmases I am sure I will ever have.

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Christmas

In the following week we became tourists, visiting Salzburg and Vienna on the train for a few days to explore the beautiful cities and learn about their illustrious histories too. Back in munich we travelled to the Dachau concentration camp memorial which was a haunting place with an eye opening museum, the fairytale Neuschwanstein castle and the grand Nymphenburg Schloss which also had a large "ice festival" on its frozen lakes and ponds. Also an experience was the Müller'sches Volksbad, an old classical style swimming hall with beautiful architecture and an attached suite of steam rooms and sauna in the traditional German style - you leave your modesty along with your swimming trunks on the hook by the door!!

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Neuschwansten Castle

New years eve in Munich was also a lot of fun - Shops are able to sell fireworks from three days before and it seemed that everyone made good use of this time judging by the empty shelves and people staggering back to their homes under the weight of explosives. On the evening itself it was like staying in a warzone with constant bangs from around five o clock until early into the new year however from what we could see the colours in the sky were amazing. The next day a huge smog had enveloped the city and we heard on the news that the air pollution was 26 (!!!!) times over the EU legal limit because of all the smoke! And the debris on the usually pristine streets was unbelievable too! Fortunately it snowed the next day and covered everything up!

Back into the last few weeks in Munich now we are currently (trying) to organise our exams and complete our courses before heading back to Bath for semester 2. Although I am excited about seeing my friends in the UK again and moving back to the beautiful city of Bath, I will be very sad to leave Munich and I think a piece of my heart will be forever here... but more on that later.

Ciao!

Matthew

 

TUM Courses, Modules and Lectures

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Undergraduate

We have summarised our courses in the blog post below. Not all of them we are taking exams in however we have included them for information's sake as it may help future students choosing their units... The number of credits is in the bracket, and which of us is taking the unit is written next to that. If you have any questions about any of them then please do give us a shout!

Rail Design (3) - Matthew

This unit focuses on the design of railway infrastructure and includes a lot of the cutting edge research TUM are carrying out on the railways. Topics we have covered so far include the structural/geotechnical design of the track system and how this has developed throughout history (including the problems with introducing new technologies leading to unintended consequences) and a guest lecture about the organisation of the Deutsche Bahn - at the end of which the lecturer offered us all a job! I was initially worried this might be a lot of repetition from the Bath second year course "Transport Infrastructure Engineering" however it has really built on top of this and gone into a lot more in depth analysis of rail systems. An interesting module to have taken and especially so as it starts at 8:00 on a friday morning!

Structural Optimisation 1 (3) - Matthew, Nick, Antonio, Will

Urban Infrastructure Design (3) - Matthew

This module, very unusually for TUM, does not have an examination! Instead it consists of three coursework design projects relating to a variety of topics. Firstly was a piece of work to redesign the road system in a local part of Munich, however this being Germany equal consideration had to be given to pedestrians, cyclists and parking making it a challenge to squeeze all the requirements into the constrained spaces available yet still conforming to the German urban design standard. The second project looked at an intersection design and  required us to dimension and assess a signalled and un-signalled traffic intersection and then propose novel ways to improve the traffic flow if required. The final project will look at the design of car parking areas and a public transport and with the final hand in in January gets a nice three credits out of the way before the exams begin.
Energy Economics & Hydropower (3) - Matthew, Nick, Antonio, Will

The first half of this unit focuses on Energy supply more broadly, looking at how generation, distribution and consumption is dealt with in "advanced economies" including a very enlightening section on how energy buying and selling works in a free market. This provides a backdrop as to why Hydropower is such a powerful energy generation tool and the second half of the lecture series focuses on the design and construction of such plants. The lecturer is good at including his own work from around the world and this makes the lectures very interesting - especially important since these lectures are all day each Saturday in December!

 
Principals of Project Management (3) - Matthew 

Including students from several faculties this unit focuses on Project Management in general however many of the examples relate to Civil Engineering works. quite a theoretical subject the lecturer uses many examples to demonstrate how good project management is essential to a successful project. In my experience nearly all problems on projects are caused by poor management or communication, so learning how to do it "correctly" seemed like a good idea! Topics covered have included stakeholder management, time/resource planning and organisation of teams.
Interactions of Land Use and Transport (3) - Matthew

Unsure of what this would contain, this has been one of my favourite units. The aim of the lecture series is to study a broad overview of transport planning, urban planning and to understand the symbiotic relationship between them. Many examples are about Munich so it has given me a new perspective on the city and I have enjoyed walking the streets to see in reality the outcomes we discuss in lectures. The lecturer is really good at fostering an environment for debate and discussion with people bringing their own ideas and experience from around the world and it is great to find out about how different places deal with similar transport problems in creative ways. We also went on a study trip to a new mixed use development in Munich to see how the research at TUM is being applied and it is always nice to get out of the lecture room and into the real world!
Timber in Construction (4) - Matthew

This builds on the knowledge I have gained in Structural Design & Construction and is an interesting unit, exploring the practicality of Timber construction and the applications of it and topics such as tropical hardwoods, seismic timber design and how to FEM model it too. There is also a field trip to a local sawmill to see how timber engineering products are made and to a construction site to better understand the practicalities of using timber for real projects. The lecturer is also good at incorporating wider structural engineering into the module - a good recap to check understanding of previous courses at Bath! I would imagine however, that it follows a similar content to the Advanced Timber Engineering second year option, so would not recommend taking this unit if you particularly wanted to take that. Overall however it has been interesting and a good "structures" type unit to pick.
Principles and Applications of Land Management (6) - Matthew, Nick, Antonio

One of the more unusual options we are taking here, this unit investigates the way people interact, organise and manage one of the most vital and scarce resources on earth - Land. Covering topics such as land registration mechanisms, landscape management, Land use planning and Cadastre, the lectures also include practical exercise tasks, for example developing a land use plan for a disused airport, which helps to gain proper understanding of the topics involved. The lecturer has also been fantastic using examples from his own work on developing new Cadastre types and setting up land registration in emerging states, to make the subject come alive. Every civil engineering project will involve land in some capacity, and with vast potential for disagreement and conflict over it, I am personally very glad I took this unit as it has improved my understanding of this topic immensely. And if you don't know what Cadastre is and want to, take this unit!

The second half of the unit has focused on "Landscape management" looking at how projects are formed to conserve biodiversity and reconcile land use with protecting environments. Again, another interesting topic additionally with a colloquium format where in groups we were required to analyse and present a pertinent research paper to the rest of the class.
Building Performance Modelling and Simulation (6) - Matthew, Nick, Antonio, Will
Geothermal, Ocean and Wind Energy (6) - Nick, Antonio, Will 
Introduction to Earth System Science (6) - Will 
Hydro Power and Energy Storage (3) - Nick, Antonio, Will 
How I want to live (3) - Nick, Antonio

 

Cold homes - the "silent" killer.

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

fuel-poverty

 

So almost all of us are back in Bath after a couple of weeks of over-eating, prolonged exposure to relatives and dreaming up wholly unachievable New Year’s resolutions. As the weather gets colder and we are no longer ensconced in wonderfully warm living rooms with copious amounts of mulled wine, you might be questioning how on earth you’re going to cope with the arctic conditions of your house share… Well, you’re not alone.

Cold homes are estimated to cost the NHS approximately £1.3 billion per year, mostly as a result of people suffering from respiratory and cardiovascular problems. With soaring energy prices, inefficient buildings and incomes rising slower than inflation, it is no wonder that an increasing number of people struggle to attain suitable indoor temperatures. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a minimum indoor temperature of 18˚C, which should be increased to 21˚C for children, disabled people and the elderly.

Unsurprisingly, cold homes have a more adverse effect on older people, whose bodies are less capable of trapping and retaining heat in comparison to a younger person. In the winter of 2014/15 there were 43,900 excess winter deaths (EWDs), 83% of which were people aged 75 and over. It is estimated that around 30% of EWDs are caused by cold homes, which results in over 8000 people dying unnecessarily each year. Shockingly, this is more than the number of people killed in road accidents, or through alcohol abuse.

So with this in mind, what is being done to prevent EWD’s? Well, Government initiatives such as the Energy Company Obligation (which requires energy companies to improve the energy efficiency of their most vulnerable customer’s homes), the Green Deal (which loaned money to homeowners for renewable energy sources) and more local Council led schemes, such as Warm Homes in BANES, all go some way to alleviating the problem, but the reality is that the direct and indirect effect of cold homes on health is not fully understood and further research is necessary to ensure this problem is prevented.

In the meantime, as we now know more about the impact of cold homes on health, I think it’s completely justifiable for us to hit the sales and buy some more clothes, purely in the interest of staying warm and healthy… right?!

 

Science, goblins and the new fiver: why 2017 will be a good year

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

Winston off-duty. Image courtesy of The International Churchill Society.

It’s scarcely worth repeating that 2016 was full of surprises – of which many people were happy, many not happy. As for many other walks of life, science faces uncertain times.

Despite the UK Government’s promise to safeguard existing EU Horizon 2020 funding until the UK leaves the EU, there are concerns of leaner times ahead. Cold hard cash aside, the general zeitgeist is perhaps also concerning for a scientist. The Oxford English Dictionary’s recognition of “post-truth” as a word, plus a famous person being quoted as “having had enough of experts”, has created something of an edgy mood.

Throughout all this uncertainty, I am personally buoyant about science’s prospects in 2017. In the spirit of the year just passed, this is for an unashamedly emotional, subjective reason, all thanks to an unlikely union of people.

First of the odd couple, the man behind Gnarlak the goblin in the film “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” – otherwise known as Ron Perlman. Secondly, the new face of the £5 note – one Sir Winston Churchill. In an interview with The Big Issue, Perlman spoke passionately about the value of arts, saying:

“I’m with Churchill – we need to cherish culture. It celebrates our commonalities”

Ron Perlman, Interview with The Big Issue, no.1231, 14 November 2016

Gnarlak, a goblin played by culture champion Ron Perlman. Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Gnarlak, a goblin played by arts champion Ron Perlman. Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Churchill was indeed a champion of culture – particularly its value to society (though he is often misquoted in this regard).

“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”

Sir Winston Churchill, Address to Royal Academy, 30 April 1938

This staunch support of culture may have partly come from Churchill’s own career in painting. It was a source of great enjoyment and relief for him. As he himself said "If it weren't for painting I could not live. I couldn't bear the strain of things."

Winston off-duty. Image courtesy of The International Churchill Society.

Winston off-duty. Image courtesy of The International Churchill Society.

But what is this to do with science?” I hear you ask. Like its fellow branches of the liberal arts, science, has its ups and downs. But like so many other aspects of human culture, it’s hardwired into our existence. It’s here to stay.

At this point in time, we are perhaps more aware than before of the differences between oneself and other citizens. This is a reason, more than ever, to seek what unites - our “commonalities”.

And science DOES unite. To give an example - standing out amongst December’s news articles about the Middle East was the arrival of SESAME. Not a puppet or seed, but the Middle East’s new particle accelerator, the “Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications”. Scientists from Iran, Pakistan, Israel, Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Bahrain will collaborate and do research in this new £75m facility in Jordan.

Open SESAME! The Middle East's new particle accelerator in al-Balqa, Jordan. Image courtesy of http://www.sesame.org.jo/

Open SESAME! The Middle East's new particle accelerator in al-Balqa, Jordan. Image courtesy of http://www.sesame.org.jo/

The prospect of lots of clever people from a troubled region working together to push the envelope of human scientific knowledge is something to celebrate. Likewise, in music, sport, literature etc., there is so much which humans enjoy and excel at which unites us across differences. At a time when there seem to be ever more ways to contrive conflict with others (voting preferences, cosmetic appearance, nationality, the list grows ever longer), let us always think first of the reality at hand - that quietly, so many of the things which inspire us are common to us all.

So as we look ahead to what 2017 may bring, rather than dwell on what frights us, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of all that unites us.

A Happy New Year to you all.

Also posted at https://verycivilengineer.wordpress.com/