Future products from past materials: designing homes of the future from ancient materials

Dr Jim Carfrae, Dr Matthew Fox and Kevin Owen from the CobBauge project (a research project lead by The University of Plymouth and five other British and French partners) have collaborated to create the ‘Future Products from Past Materials’ event. The event was organised over three days, giving students from the University of Plymouth’s Faculty of Arts Humanities and Business, an opportunity to learn about sustainable materials and to construct a model of their design of a sustainable house from hand-mixed cob.

The project layout across three days

The student project, funded by the Strategic Investment Fund, facilitated by The Bridge at The University of Plymouth, gave the students the opportunity to develop a multitude of skills across the three days.

Day one: The students were introduced to each other, the project organisers and were given a briefing of the issues that the project is hoping to tackle: getting the CobBauge through the regulations. They were presented with different fibres and samples of different sod and were given the opportunity to have a hands-on experience of mixing the cob to create samples which could go through the thermal testing machine.

“The participants met other students from different fields in a completely different situation but in the same university. It was the perfect venue to develop professional skills: you can attend lectures, complete your coursework and exams, but in the end, somebody out there is going to have to build these types of homes for people to live in. Compared to everyday academic life this is a very different environment for the students to adjust to, even though they’re in the same institution that they had been taught the day before.” – Professor Steve Goodhew

Day two: A live design for a new building on the University’s campus was introduced to the participants. From there, they were tasked with designing their sustainable building in their small teams, using the materials they had learnt about the day before. This is an innovative method of experiential learning as the students had to apply the theory of the materials which they had learnt the previous day into their designs. Furthermore, the students were also required to construct a physical model of the sustainable buildings they had designed, using the materials they had mixed during day one.

“Learning the mixture of the CobBauge. The technical mixes and the testing as well. Then giving us a chance to model what we think would be good for a building. For me, it’s always hands-on learning that works best.” – Russel, event participant.

Day three: Day three consisted of the teams completing their models ready to be presented to a panel of judges for a winning team to be chosen. Through being able to present their design with the assistance of their models, enabled the students a unique experience of synthesising their ideas into a tangible object which was then presented to an audience which included judges.

How knowledge exchange influenced this project

Knowledge Exchange is at the roots of this project. From the participants who were a combination of undergraduate and masters students studying a wide range of courses from 3D design to architecture and fine art. This gave the students the opportunity to gain valuable experience in skills collaboration and teamwork while seeing first-hand the benefit of Knowledge Exchange. 

“The final model brought together many of the different skill that our students learn on their courses, complemented by the evident team-work from people from very different backgrounds.” – Dr Jim Carfrae
Furthermore, the students were able to gain knowledge and insight from not only Professor Steve Goodhew, but also from research fellows, Dr Jim Carfrae and Dr Matthew Fox, who both work on the wider CobBauge project.

As well as the expertise of Senior Technician Mr Kevin Owen and Senior Project Manager Karen Hood Cree. This gave the students the rare opportunity to work with industry experts in a new and innovative setting which is guaranteed to benefit them greatly long term.

“Cob buildings are unique to the South West of England. This three day course not only introduced each participant to the long history of earth building in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset, but also to the possibilities that renewing that tradition can bring to the local area. The event offered a tantalising vision of working in the south west of the UK on an innovative material that has its roots that go back many centuries.” – Professor Steve Goodhew

<p>Future products from past materials CobBauge<br></p>
<p>Future products from past materials CobBauge<br></p>
<p>Future products from past materials CobBauge<br></p>
<p>Future products from past materials CobBauge<br></p>

CobBauge Project

Led by Professor Steve Goodhew, a traditional building method is being repurposed through an international research project with a view to constructing a new generation of energy efficient homes.

Cob houses have existed in the south of England and northern France for centuries, however the construction industry has been unable to create a cob material that meets new thermal and structural building regulations.

Find out more about the CobBauge Project