Nottingham-based firm Acres Architects is enlisting almost 50 first- and second-year undergraduate students from the University of Nottingham’s architecture and environmental-engineering courses to come up with ideas for how future generations can live and work in net-zero or carbon-positive habitats.
The four-week programme, which will form part of the students’ degree coursework, is based on the premise that our cities are becoming so overcrowded that we need to find ways to live and work in more extreme and remote natural environments. The students have been asked to use the 50-hectare Grade II-listed Highfields Park, in Nottingham, as a model environment on which to base their proposals.
This is the first time that the university has invited both architecture and engineering students to collaborate at the concept stage of such a project. It hopes that this will encourage the development of feasible working solutions and ultimately generate evidence-based data that could potentially be used to convince local-authority planners to make the students’ ideas a reality.
‘Acres Architects and the university are united in the belief that the very first consideration of all future development should be self-sufficiency,’ said Guillermo Guzman Dumont, assistant professor in the Department of Architecture and Built Environment, who is overseeing the students’ work. ‘We’re certainly aiming for net-zero or even, hopefully, carbon-positive communities, where waste products such as sewage are harvested to create energy and make them effectively off-the grid.
‘We must therefore modify the culture and DNA of our future architects and engineers to ensure this happens, which is why we’ve launched this competition for our younger students,’ he continued. ‘But we’re not talking about science fiction here – this is informed speculation of the near future, supported by science, data and inspiration. As the post-pandemic revival begins, it is clear we will not be living in the way we have been in 20 years’ time.’
According to Guzman Dumont, traditionally, architects would imagine such proposals at concept stage and suggest sometimes outlandish ideas that may be based more on aesthetics than economic and technical feasibility. ‘By encouraging this multi-disciplined collaboration with engineers, we are introducing properly considered data,’ he said. ‘And data is the enabler of a more viable proposal.’
Representatives from Acres Group will be available to guide the students through the process, before helping to judge their work and select three winning proposals. ‘The current energy crisis, climate change and food-supply issues have shown us that the race to create more sustainable ways of living is now critical,’ said founder and managing director Edward Acres. ‘With home working becoming a new norm, combined with our need to commute less and the urgent need to produce energy from non-traditional sources, we all need to change the way we think and live. By supporting our future architects and engineers, and encouraging them to collaborate for the greater good, we hope to generate ideas that can inspire governments, local authorities and developers.’