Conceptual art for the CobBauge facility - credit, Fox Ecological Architects

Conceptual art for the CobBauge facility - credit, Fox Ecological Architects

Construction has begun of the first building in the country to be made from an upgraded version of the centuries-old material of cob.

The single-storey building on the University of Plymouth campus will act as a classroom and laboratory with researchers monitoring the performance of the new walling material, as well as demonstrating it to future building designers, contractors, housing associations and interested stakeholders.

The construction is the latest phase of the award-winning CobBauge project, being led by the University with partners in the UK, Ireland and France. These include Ecole Supérieure d'ingénieurs des Travaux de la Construction (ESITC), Parc naturel régional des Marais du Contentin et du Bessin (PnrMCB), Earth Building UK and Ireland (EBUKI), Université de Caen and Hudson Architects.

Principal Investigator Steve Goodhew, Professor of Environmental Building, in the School of Art, Design and Architecture, said:

“This is the start of an exciting new applied research phase for CobBauge, where we have an opportunity to put into practice the exciting findings from the laboratory. We will create a living lab and demonstration site that will become the centre of attention for a wide range of people – from construction professionals to built environment students.”

The first phase of CobBauge set out to develop a new method of using cob that will meet with thermal regulations on both sides of the Channel. Through an intensive laboratory process, the researchers studied a range of different soil and fibre mixes, and created a unique double-layered composite wall that combines a denser mix with a lighter weight version of the material, for a combination of strength and insulation.

Having established that the method met the required standards – both reducing the energy needed for heating homes and mitigating overheating during warmer conditions – the project has moved on to the second phase. This focuses on investigating the performance of the new building, using a range of sensors to measure energy use and analysing its life cycle and indoor air quality.

With planning permission secured, construction of the 32-square-metre building, located next door to the University’s Sustainability Hub, will begin this month. It is expected to take around eight months to complete, with the work being carried out by Paul Barclay and Chris Noakes (Eco-Construction) and the University’s Estates team.

“The location for the CobBauge building effectively creates a sustainability research ‘quarter’ on our campus,”

said Professor Will Blake, Director of the Sustainable Earth Institute.

"Students and visitors to the site will be able to engage with this potentially industry-influencing ongoing research project, right next door to our green-walled Sustainability Hub, which, as a living lab, is itself at the forefront of the Low Carbon Devon programme. It exemplifies the University’s commitment to an ultra-low-carbon future.”

Phase 2 of the project has been funded by Interreg V France (Channel) England, co-funded by the ERDF to a total of €4,127,365.09. It will also see a full-sized building constructed in France.

Its progress thus far has been met with significant interest and was a winner at the European Commission’s RegioStars awards, in 2019, beating more than 30 entries to triumph in the sustainability category.

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.

CobBauge Wall Build 2020
CobBauge Wall Build 2020 at the University of Plymouth
CobBauge logo