TDUK’s University Design Challenge: educating the next generation of designers

2002's student participants, gathered at NMITE

A key part of Timber Development UK’s remit is to help educate the next generation of architects and built environment professionals on the importance of designing with timber.

Our popular University Design Challenge series helps do just that. Tabitha Binding, head of education and engagement at TDUK, explains.

A key roadblock to the use of more timber in the UK built environment has been an educational gap around its use.

For some architecture and building design courses, timber is little more than a day of learning and course work. This means graduates emerge without the knowledge, ability or confidence to design with timber systems. Timber Development UK is seeking to change this through our University Engagement Programme, to encourage teaching establishments to make timber systems and technologies a core pillar of their teaching.

Our annual University Design Challenge asks students to form multi-disciplinary teams to solve a design problem – exactly as they would in the professional world. For many students this will be the first time they engage with timber as a core building material, but we hope that through this programme it will not be the last.

This year, in partnership with New Model Institute of Technology and Engineering (NMITE), Edinburgh Napier University (ENU) and the Passivhaus Trust, the challenge asked students from various courses related to building design and delivery – architecture, engineering, quantity surveying and so on – to design Southside Hereford. This is a detached single-storey building community centre that could provide a vibrant, inspiring and inclusive focal point for the people of South Wye.

Student teams had to produce designs that sited the community centre within the local context and landscape, using timber as a core building material, while integrating the clients’ and community’s interests.

The designs had to be net zero, meet Passivhaus standards, creatively employ sustainable building materials and construction methods, and be energy and resource efficient, focusing on the health and well-being of the community and our planet.

The panel of judges and clients, in deliberation

The panel of judges and clients, in deliberation

Students who enter the challenge benefit from a webinar series in which they learn all the basic elements of timber in construction – from design to costing, properties and engineered products, as well as offsite and onsite construction – and everything in between. This gives them a valuable understanding of timber construction and how this low-carbon building material can be used to create outstanding structures that add real value to our built environment.

They learn from a host of professionals at the forefront of modern construction and are able to see their designs being promoted – not forgetting the cash prize awarded to the winning teams.