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A sustainable future for industrial heritage sites

Students in our School of Architecture are engaging with local communities to design a sustainable future for former industrial sites.

The 'Carbon Pasts, Low Carbon Futures' unit for year 5 Archtecture students was created following student demand for a design unit looking at the themes of retrofit, adaptive reuse and sustainability. The unit brief calls on the students to make proposals for a sustainable future for industrial heritage sites, including uses that boost local employment. In 2021/22 this focused on Crumlin Navigation Colliery in the Ebbw valley and this year 2022/23 it looks at Cefn Coed Colliery in the Dulais Valley.

Students are challenged to think of how these sites, partly responsible for the current climate emergency, can be catalysts for a low carbon future for the local and wider area, considering circular economy and renewable energy sources, including low enthalpy geothermal heat recovery. With the latter the students were assisted by the involvement of the head of the Coal Authority’s Head of Heat & By-Product Innovation.

The 2021/22 designs were exhibited at an exhibition on the site with the local community, politicians, policy makers and the wider public invited to view the proposals. The work of the unit as a whole was selected by the Welsh School of Architecture for submission for the RIBA President’s Medal.

The unit has raised the profile of adaptive reuse, the importance of embodied carbon and retrofit not just with the students directly involved but also across MArch2 and the School and through the exhibition out to the wider local community.

"The chance to exhibit our work in the context of our site was incredible," one of the students commented. "Being able to engage with the residents of Crumlin and the local council under the shadow of the industrial structures of Crumlin's carbon past helped to create a wonderful visual and contextual link to our proposed projects for a low carbon future.“

Feedback from visitors to the exhibition was also positive: “It was a real pleasure to see the final student presentations at the exhibition - really excellent work! The critical analysis and diversity of the student’s response to such a relevant, topical and challenging project brief was something to applaud!”