The single-storey building on the University of Plymouth campus is being described as 'a living laboratory for low carbon construction'.
It will act as a classroom and laboratory, with researchers monitoring the performance of the new walling material, and it will also be used for demonstration purposes for future building designers as well as contractors, housing associations and interested stakeholders.
The construction is the latest phase of the CobBauge research project, which is investigating whether an optimised version of cob could be a practical, sustainable solution for a new generation of energy-efficient housing since it has low embodied energy.
The project is being led by the University of Plymouth and its Sustainable Earth Institute, along with partners in England 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 & Ireland (EBUKI), Université de Caen and Hudson Architects.
Principal investigator Steve Goodhew, professor of environmental building in the School of Art, Design & 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 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 English Channel. The researchers studied a range of different soil and fibre mixes in the lab and created a 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 against overheating during warmer conditions – the project has moved on to the second phase. This focuses on investigating the performance of the new building, using sensors to measure energy use and analysing its life cycle and indoor air quality.
With planning permission secured, construction of the 45-square-metre building, next door to the University’s Sustainability Hub, started in June and the walls are now in place. It is expected to be completed in early spring 2022, with the work being carried out by contractor Chris Noakes and the university’s estates team.
“The location for the CobBauge building effectively creates a sustainability research quarter on our campus,” said Prof 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 hub, which itself is at the forefront of the Low Carbon Devon programme.”