Monday, 6 May 2013

Centres for innovation

I recommend listening to Radio 4's episode of The Reunion, broadcast last Friday 3 May. It looks at the work of the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), how they foresaw environmentalism and how their movement impacted on society as a whole.  Inspired by this, I've listed some of the key centres for innovation connected to the building industry.  The intention is that for any projects requiring R&D, it might act as a reference source.  As usual, please comment to add any additional organisations or information.

Centres for innovation:

BMT Fluid Mechanics
BMT are based in Teddington with facilities to test building design performance with some very impressive wind tunnels as well as with software simulations.  For anything that needs to perform in air or water, look here.

BMT Fluid Mechanics.  Photo from RIBA.

Building Research Establishment (BRE)
The BRE, is the organisation everyone is aware of.  It is a big group of businesses, with ts main offices in Watford and satellite offices in Wales, Scotland and Ireland.  It is developing a global network and is the place to refer to for:
  • Testing and certification of project design features, including fire certification, wind tunnel testing and acoustic design
  • Legislation on issues such as environmental design and developments in BREEAM
  • Research in to building materials
  • Exhibitions on some of the latest developments in building innovations, with full size prototypes at their Innovation Park.
Possibly a first port of call for design innovation.

Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT)
CAT based at Machynlleth, Wales, still operates but as a much more mature organisation than its beginnings in the 70's.  It is an important source to investigate in relation to:
  • Renewable energy strategies
  • Off-grid systems for providing heat, power, water and drainage
  • Reducing water consumption
  • Low carbon design
CAT from the Guardian's Green Living Blog

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
NERC are the government's central agency for organising and funding science related to the science of the natural world.   Perhaps not a direct link to the built environment but important in relation to the way we think about the environment, and worth investigating.   Their branches include:


  • Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH): A government funded organisation examining the science behind terrestrial and fresh water eco systems and their impact on the atmosphere
  • British Antarctic Survey (BAS) performing polar science and recently taking charge of their sixth research facility at Halley, on the brunt ice shelf.
  • The National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton.
BAS Science at Halley VI.  Station by Hugh Broughton Architects 

QinetiQ
QinetiQ art the former R&D arm for the Ministry of Defense.  They specialise in military applications but it is common for military innovations to filter down in to other industrial sectors.  On the one hand, they conduct a lot of research in to materials, logistical systems, specialist machinery, human psychology etc., so if you have a project with a special design problem  it might be worth an enquiry.  On the other hand, they are very secretive over their intellectual property, and conscious of security.  Their R&D is not cheap, so it probably needs to be a significantly large or high profile project to warrant their involvement.

QinetiQ stealth aerial drone. Top secret (supposedly) 


RWDI
RWDI are a huge Canadian R&D organisation, specialising in the design and analysis of building structures and environmental systems for some of the most complicated buildings, on some of the most extreme environments on earth.  Luckily they have a UK branch at Hemel Hempstead, and the key Director to contact there is Duncan Phillips.  Their engineering capabilities are very impressive, so for any project with high performance requirements, I'd recommend making contact.

RWDI wind tunnel testing of model for Burj, Dubai

Timber Research and Development Association (TRADA)
TRADA specialises in timber and its use in buildings.  Members benefit from an advice line and can commission peer reviews of projects.  The TRADA also includes the Chiltern group of companies, performing pressure testing for buildings, fire testing and quality assurance registration.  

TRADA pavilion, engineered with Rambol

Here's the start of a list that should develop with time and feedback.  Your comments welcome.

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