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Sustainable building

27 November 2009

Members of the project team prepare to test the strength of the vaultMembers of the project team prepare to test the strength of the vault

A student project at the Welsh School of Architecture may have uncovered the answer to more sustainable building.

Each year the School runs a Vertical Studio programme providing the opportunity for First and Second Year architecture students to work together on practical projects.

One of the proposals for this year was to test the structural strength of hemp/lime, known for its high thermal properties. Results have indicated the material’s potential use in sustainable building.

Under the supervision of architect David Lea, the project’s tutor, nine students constructed a hemp/lime vault in Bute Building. During Sustainability Week, the team tested the strength of the vault by loading it with the equivalent of 1.5 tons of weight, enough to meet current Building Regulations.

The vault performed better than expected and did not break during testing. This phase of the project was run by Professor Abid Abu-Tair and Dr John Kinuthia, structural engineers from the University of Glamorgan, who are currently analysing the results and preparing a report.

Discussing the project, David Lea said: "The archaic form of the vault recalls a time when one material was sufficient for creativity and provides a simplicity which could be a foundation for a more appropriate way of building at a time when the world’s resources face unprecedented threats."

Sylvia Harris, Information and Library Representative for the Welsh School of Architecture, acknowledged the dedication of those involved in the construction work. She said: "Building the vault would not have been possible without the hard work of the students, and the support of colleagues in Estates, who provided us with space in Bute Building for its construction."

The project attracted considerable interest and was generously supported by local companies, including Machine Mart, Hire Station Cardiff, and Jewson Limited, all of whom provided tools and equipment. The hemp/lime was donated by Hempcrete and cedar roofing shingles were supplied by Loft-Shop.

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