A Construction Centre of Vocational Excellence (CoVE) at a UK college is an education in itself.
The Genesis Centre at Somerset College in Taunton is a £2.5 million educational resource funded by the South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA) and the Learning and Skills Council.
With education at the heart of its design the building offers visitors the opportunity to see, touch and learn about a vast range of sustainable materials, construction techniques and technologies within the structure of one multi-award winning building.
Natural Construction Materials
The main structure houses pavilions built from natural materials – including straw, earth, fired clay and timber and these provide the centre with three seminar rooms, a café/shop, lecture theatre, offices and toilets.
This pavilion is a load-bearing bale structure that demonstrates an alternative, modern and contemporary look to this popular, but much misunderstood construction material. In addition, the bales provide the seminar rooms with excellent thermal and acoustic insulation.
The café/shop demonstrates three different approaches to earth construction – rammed, mass cob and adobe block, along with the use of earth plaster.
In keeping with the centre’s ethos of engaging with mainstream industry, the decision was made to greatly increase the u-value of the walls, which were externally insulated with a wood fibre board.
The lecture theatre is a solid wall construction that uses a 365mm micro-porous block. The blocks are bonded using a thin jointing system and use no mortar, but interlock, on the vertical joint.
The structure of the blocks gives them very good insulation properties and the jointing system helps to provide a very consistent u-value across the surface of the walls.
The offices were constructed using highly insulated prefabricated modular components that demonstrate the use of off-site construction in the delivery of energy efficient construction elements. Western Red Cedar provides an environmentally friendly external cladding.
Energy and Water
The centre’s space heating is provided via a 37kW biomass boiler. This heats the water for the under-floor heating system while hot water for the toilets and kitchen comes mainly from evacuated solar tubes on the roof.
The centre also produces around 40% of its electrical needs from a 5.1Kw photovoltaic array. Based on current conversion factors, it is estimated that the photovoltaics alone save at least 2,720 kg of C02e per annum with further savings of about 200 kg CO2e/yr from the solar thermal.
Water needs are reduced by the use of waterless urinals, low flush toilets and aerated spray taps.
The design of the centre incorporates a number of approaches to making buildings more sustainable, most of which focus on the reduction of CO2 emissions and the mitigation of climate change.
In dealing with stormwater however, the design also highlights the equally pressing issue of adapting to climate change.
Living roofs – one sedum and one brown/rubble – reduce and slow the run-off by between 40-50% and help to reduce summer overheating.
The stormwater water run-off rate and volume is then further reduced by the centre’s sustainable urban drainage system which holds and then slowly releases water from the site when needed.
Genesis highlights the potential for greater use of local, recycled and renewable materials, and thereby acts as a catalyst for changing construction practices.
As well as green construction materials, the centre also incorporates recycled internal materials such as:
- Insulation made from materials like recycled cotton denim and newspapers
- Recycled material used in carpeting
- Granite-look worktops in the toilets made from yoghurt pots