‘Hemphasise’ declared winners of the TDUK Student Challenge 2023

Winners of TDChallenge23.

A mixed-discipline student team featuring built environment students from across the UK took out top spot in the Timber Development UK University Design Challenge 2023 (#TDChallenge23), as they competed to reimagine and retrofit a real-life building using timber.

TDChallenge is the pre-eminent competition for students to learn how to design and build with timber, a sustainable, low-carbon building material, while providing skills they can take into their careers by simulating real challenges the students will face.

Fiercely competitive, from the 150+ who first registered, 34 students from 22 universities were selected from across the UK for the competition’s finals at NMITE’s Centre for Advanced Timber Technology to face a judging panel comprised of professional, academic and industry experts.

Retrofitting a community space

Hemphasise winning design cross section.

The mixed-discipline student teams came together and worked online for five months to produce their entries. They were given the task of reimagining Widemarsh Cricket Pavilion in Hereford. The timber-framed pavilion is currently only used for storage.

The local community wanted a multifunctional space that is welcoming, warm, easy to maintain, produces more energy than it consumes and costs little to run. Teams had to retrofit and extend the building, and the triangle of ground bordered by roads and paths, for multifunctional use.

The winning team’s design – aiming for better than net zero

The winners – who named their team ‘Hemphasise’ – proposed to transform Widemarsh Pavilion into a flexible learning facility and community hub. It would offer opportunities for skills development, enhanced social mobility, and community cohesion.

Winners of TDChallenge23.

(L-R) Tabitha Binding, Head of Education, Timber Development UK. Dafyn Richards, Plymouth University. Deepak Sadhwani, Cardiff University. Daniel Green, London Metropolitan University. Beverley Gibbs, CAO NMITE. Absent: Shweta Salvankar, Cardiff University. Irene Dumitrascu-Podogrocki, Newcastle University. Martin Juricek. Heriot-Watt University.

The design adopts a whole-building approach to meet the EnerPhit retrofit standard. “We aim for a better than net-zero carbon footprint,” the team explains, “by integrating low embodied carbon materials with efficient energy systems such as PV, storage and optimized controls.”

Their proposed building fabric provides a medium-weight construction with thermal mass to store heat. Many of the materials are hygroscopic (breathable) and thus able to support the management of moisture.

The design uses prefabricated panels, with a mix of hemplime and wood fibre insulation within a timber frame, primarily constructed offsite. This allows local residents to take part in the assembly of some wall panels.

Shweta Salvankar, Cardiff University, reflecting on their success, said they “enjoyed the teamwork and creativity… each member brought in their strengths and we performed amazing because of it”, a sentiment echoed by all the students.

More than the win, Daniel Green, London Metropolitan University, thought that the knowledge of timber was invaluable, with the challenge helping him to learn “on the flexibility of timber products – structural, insulation, and finishes”.

Dafyn Richards, Plymouth University, also said they were leaving the challenge with “a much broader knowledge of timber and its possible applications and that if detailed correctly then fire and water aren’t concerns that should see it dismissed as a potential building material.”

It wasn’t just about timber that students learnt however, with Irene Dumitrascu-Podogrocki of Newcastle University highlighting “learning the languages of other disciplines,” while Martin Juricek of Heriot-Watt University, said it was “a rare opportunity to learn about retrofit”.

Martin said the challenge meant he had to “extend my understanding of existing timber buildings and real life applications,” as they faced realistic constraints which meant the team had to be really creative with their solution.

What the judges and partners said

Low carbon architect, Passivhaus designer and Green Register co-director Julia Bennett summed-up the judges’ thoughts

“An excellent presentation, a good use of form factor analysis at concept, with consideration of circular construction challenges and opportunities,” she notes. “This would be a buildable scheme with a good balance of existing and extended elements.”

Tabitha Binding, TDUK Head of Education and Engagement said:

“To have any hope of addressing the climate crisis, our future professionals need to know how to build and retrofit using the lowest carbon structural material – timber. The TDChallenge is unique by offering students the opportunity to get beyond their course work and apply their learnings in a pragmatic way, working together as professionals do, and on a real world project,” said

“Timber is often not taught sufficiently at UK universities, so this challenge has become an important way for the industry to ‘plug the gaps’, and ensure that incoming professionals have the skills they need to thrive, and build – or retrofit – the sustainable, low-carbon buildings we need today. Specifying the right products and detailing for longevity and reuse is essential.”

Beverly Gibbs, Chief Academic Officer of NMITE, reflecting on the challenge, said:

It is a delight to see so many students and graduates from the length and breadth the UK coming together to develop and apply their skills and passions to the challenge of making the built environment more sustainable. It has been a pleasure to host the TDUK Challenge 23 final day at NMITE in Hereford, and to see the creative and rigorous thought processes behind the proposed designs. “

About the challenge

The challenge is brought together by Timber Development UK in a collaborative partnership with AECB, BE-ST, NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University and Passivhaus Trust, with software from Trimble, the Passive House Institute and AECB PHribbon.

Are you a student or recent graduate? Sign up to participate in our University Design Challenge 2024.


SECOND PLACE: Shifana Kunnathedath, University of the Arts London. Chantal Barnes, University of Westminster Grad. Jiar Sadiq, Edinburgh Napier University. Muneeb Khan, Robert Gordon University Grad. Arjun Prema, Edinburgh Napier University.

THIRD PLACE: Tanchho Lawati, UCA Canterbury. Numaan Amar, University of Birmingham Graduate. Joseph Meehan, University of Bristol Graduate. El-Amin Ahmed, University of Cambridge. Siara Wong, University of Nottingham. Matthew Lindars, University of Birmingham Graduate. Tsveta Karagyozova, University of Sheffield.

FOURTH PLACE: Craig Robertson, Edinburgh Napier University. Tim Danson, University of Brighton. Caroline Vosburgh, Edinburgh Napier University.

JUDGES: Dr Rachel Mitchell, Greenbox Associates. Tim Martel, AECB Carbon Lead. Sarah Jowett, Herfordshire Council. Rosalind Thorpe, CEIOB. Aled Davis, Cardiff University. Gavin Knowles, University of Bath. Beth Williams, Build Collective. Julia Bennett, Green Register. Matt Hayes, Arbor Architects.