Hemphasise wins TDUK Student Challenge

A mixed-discipline student team from across the UK took the top spot in the 2023 TDUK University Design Challenge, as they competed to reimagine and retrofit a real-life building using timber.

The University Design Challenge is the premier competition for students who wish to better understand how to design and build with timber, while learning real skills they can take forward into their careers.

Tabitha Binding, Timber Development UK’s (TDUK) Head of Education and Engagement, explains: “This challenge aims to break down the barriers between professions and to bring industry and academia together so that our future professionals learn how and when to use timber, whether in newbuild or retrofit. It’s important that built environment professionals can specify the right products and detail for longevity and reuse so that all our timber lasts longer in use than it took to grow.”

More than 150 students signed up to the competition, with 34 students from 22 UK universities then selected to take part in the competition’s finals at NMITE’s Centre for Advanced Timber Technology in Hereford in July. There, they faced a judging panel comprised of professional, academic and industry experts.

Retrofitting a community space

The mixed-discipline student teams were asked to reimagine the timber-framed Widemarsh Cricket Pavilion in Hereford, which is currently only used for storage.
The local community wanted to see the building transformed into a multifunctional space that is welcoming, warm, easy to maintain, produces more energy than it consumes and costs little to run.

Each team had to create a proposal to retrofit and extend the building, as well as the triangle of ground bordered by roads and paths, for multifunctional community use. They worked together online for five months to produce their entries.

The winning team, Hemphasise, included Shweta Salvankar, Cardiff University; Irene Dumitrascu-Podogrocki, Newcastle University; Dafyn Richards, Plymouth University; Martin Juricek, Heriot-Watt University, Daniel Green, London Metropolitan University; and Deepak Sadhwani, Cardiff University.

Together, they presented a fabric-first scheme 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.

The design adopted a whole-building approach that met the EnerPhit retrofit standard.

The team said: “We aim for a better than net-zero carbon footprint by integrating low embodied carbon materials with efficient energy systems such as PV, storage and optimized controls.”

Their proposed building fabric provided a medium-weight construction with thermal mass to store heat. Many of the materials chosen are hygroscopic and 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 would also allow local residents to take part in the assembly of some wall panels, bringing the community even closer to the building.

Shweta Salvankar said they “enjoyed the teamwork and creativity”, with each member bringing their own strengths to the team, a sentiment echoed by all the students.

Dafyn Richards 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”.

The Judges said they chose Hemphasise as the winning entry because they felt it would be a buildable scheme with a good balance of existing and extended elements.

Low-carbon architect, Passivhaus designer and Green Register co-director Julia Bennett explained: “The University Design Challenge is the premier competition for students who wish to better understand how to design and build with timber, while learning real skills they can take forward into their careers.

Tabitha Binding, Timber Development UK’s (TDUK) Head of Education and Engagement, explains: “This challenge aims to break down the barriers between professions and to bring industry and academia together so that our future professionals learn how and when to use timber, whether in newbuild or retrofit. It’s important that built environment professionals can specify the right products and detail for longevity and reuse so that all our timber lasts longer in use than it took to grow.”

More than 150 students signed up to the competition, with 34 students from 22 UK universities then selected to take part in the competition’s finals at NMITE’s Centre for Advanced Timber Technology in Hereford in July. There, they faced a judging panel comprised of professional, academic and industry experts.

Retrofitting a community space

The mixed-discipline student teams were asked to reimagine the timber-framed Widemarsh Cricket Pavilion in Hereford, which is currently only used for storage.
The local community wanted to see the building transformed into a multifunctional space that is welcoming, warm, easy to maintain, produces more energy than it consumes and costs little to run.

Each team had to create a proposal to retrofit and extend the building, as well as the triangle of ground bordered by roads and paths, for multifunctional community use. They worked together online for five months to produce their entries.

The winning team, Hemphasise, included Shweta Salvankar, Cardiff University; Irene Dumitrascu-Podogrocki, Newcastle University; Dafyn Richards, Plymouth University; Martin Juricek, Heriot-Watt University, Daniel Green, London Metropolitan University; and Deepak Sadhwani, Cardiff University.

Together, they presented a fabric-first scheme 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.

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

Their proposed building fabric provided a medium-weight construction with thermal mass to store heat. Many of the materials chosen are hygroscopic and 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 would also allow local residents to take part in the assembly of some wall panels, bringing the community even closer to the building.

Shweta Salvankar said they “enjoyed the teamwork and creativity”, with each member bringing their own strengths to the team, a sentiment echoed by all the students.
Dafyn Richards 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”.

The Judges said they chose Hemphasise as the winning entry because they felt it would be a buildable scheme with a good balance of existing and extended elements.

Low-carbon architect, Passivhaus designer and Green Register co-director Julia Bennett explained: “The team’s core skills provided a great context for the scheme drivers. [They gave] an excellent presentation and strong image work, with a good use of form factor analysis at concept with consideration of circular construction challenges and opportunities.”

Could you win next year?

The 2024 University Design Challenge is now open for students to register their interest and will focus on the theme of affordable, sustainable timber homes.
The challenge is brought together by TDUK 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.

Tabitha concluded: “The TDUK Challenge 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 on a real-world project.

“Timber is often not taught sufficiently to students 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.”

You can sign up for the 2024 University Design Challenge online at the TDUK website.