Biomimicry is defined as the “design and production of materials, structures and systems modelled on biological creatures and/or processes”. It’s not a new thing, despite it being a term you may not have heard before, as humans have been inspired by nature for thousands of years.
In fact, nature has been running along, doing its own thing in a mostly successful manner for billions of years now, so why wouldn’t enterprising humans, past and present, look to nature for inspiration or for ways to improve on what we’re making and how we make it.
Biomimicry is not limited to construction either, you can see inspiration from nature in everything from robotics (spider-like robots that can craw into rubble to search for survivors after disasters) to energy (flower inspired solar panels that tilt to follow the sun) and right through to fashion.
The interior of the Sagrada Familia, for example, is inspired by a forest, with large, tree-like columns separating into arching branches that support the leafy decorations and coloured glass skylights that form the ceiling. There’s the infamous building at 30 St Mary Axe in London, known to everyone across the UK as the Gherkin, which is inspired by a gherkin sea sponge, and has a complex air filtration system that runs throughout the building, and is like the system a sponge or anemone might use for filtering water.
And a little more recently in Germany there’s the BIQ house in Hamburg, which incorporates algae into transparent panels along the south-facing side of the building. This algae grows over the summer months, providing shade for the building and allowing any heat generated at this time to be stored for later use.
Additionally, once the level of algae in the tanks passes a certain level, the excess is harvested to produce bio-gas, which is then used to heat the building in the winter months. It seems to have been a certain level of success as the building has been occupied since 2013.
A similar project was displayed as part of a 2017 Copenhagen art fair, created this time by IKEA’s research lab. This project though was an algae-hosting, four metre high pavillion, within which the algae was to be used as a food source rather than an energy source.
As quoted in the Dezeen article, “Packed with vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids, microalgae contains 50 times more iron than spinach and more than twice as much protein as meat.”
Notwithstanding the fact that I sat here muttering “soylent green is people” whilst reading the article, this is actually really cool.
Ideas based in nature don’t have to be the size of buildings either. The City Tree is a biological filter that uses moss to filter out air pollution as well as to produce additional oxygen.
It’s been suggested that such a system can filter as much air as 275 trees, though this figure is clearly dependent on a lot of different factors. It also does not retain as much CO2 as 275 trees despite some media claims.
I’m also, personally, not a fan of the early version with only one small seat on each side, but that is a whole other post.
Sustainability was defined by the Brundtland Commission as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. And with Climate Change in full swing and evident to all but the most stubborn deniers, everyone is looking towards sustainable applications for everything from agriculture to manufacturing.
The construction industry is no different in considering sustainability to be an ethical imperative as we go forward, especially as we consider the changes we will need to make to our building styles and methods as climate change affects the world around us.
It’s a situation made a little more complicated by the fact that there is never going to be a “one size fits all” solution within the construction industry — one site will always be different to another, no matter how subtle the changes might be.
For example, prefabrication has been cited as being more sustainable than some other construction methods, with the reduced time on site and reduction of potential fabrication mistakes amongst the factors that makes it a tempting prospect.
However, this method isn’t without its downsides. Prefabricated sections are usually large and require specialised transport to site, which can significantly increase the carbon footprint of a project, plus the additional provision of ways to manoeuvre the sections into place.
This has led, within the construction industry as well as within many others, to an increased level of creativity and innovation when considering ways that we can become more sustainable.
For example, a Scottish company founded by an Professor Gabriela Medero, an engineer from Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, is currently working with a design for a brick that is made from construction waste.
The K-Briq (yes, I know) is comprised of 90% recycled material and is unfired, meaning that it generates a much lower level of carbon emissions than regular bricks. It is said by it’s creator to look, weigh and behave like a clay brick, however, we note that this is stated in an interview in DeZeen magazine and, at the time of writing, no supporting research is publicly available.
And this is by no means the only research into more environmentally friendly ways to form building materials.
Research is ongoing by Suzanne Lambert at the University of Cape town to create a zero-waste brick which is hardened at room temperature using bacteria and human urine.
Following on from this use of bacteria, there was a post that caught my eye last year, largely because it combines construction with one of my hobbies, which detailed work by London-based architect Bastian Beyer who had been using bacteria to calcify knitted materials to form solid columns. They have a wonderful, almost DNA-like structure to them due to the solidification of the knitting structure.
It was interesting largely because, like 3D printing, it could be carried out, with an appropriate advancement of technology, on site with minimal space. And it has the potential for a much simpler repair process if the structure is damaged.
Of course, the idea of a calcified structure in an era of climate change, pollution and acidic rainwater is certainly something that would need to be worked upon. As would the way in which the new structures would interact with the surrounding ecosystem and wildlife.
Likewise there would need to be rigorous testing on how these new methods of construction would work at a larger scale, especially with the potential ability to change the loading capacity of the structure by simply changing the knitted pattern.
However, a combination of technology like this with 3D printing and more traditional construction methods suggests that introducing sustainability to the construction industry may not be as far off, or as expensive, as many have stated.
(I mean, I say ‘inaugural’ no one has been brave enough yet to challenge Anne when her response to the question of whether this was going to be an annual even was a resounding “Nope!”.)
First and foremost, we’d like to thank everyone that
supported us, either on the night or via donations. Everyone seemed to have a
great night, and the feedback we’ve had since then has been good, though we
can’t necessarily confirm that there were no sore heads the day after amongst
certain quiz teams.
We’d like to express specific thanks to Lee who ran the quiz and was as brilliant as ever, as well as to Anna at Bluebell Wood who helped source the wonderful raffle prizes, and to Linda from one of the support teams who came along and spoke about the work Bluebell Wood Hospice does.
We also couldn’t have run the night as smoothly as we did without
the help of the staff at the Phoenix Pavilion, and their catering team worked
absolute wonders on the buffet! And last but never least, we need to thank
BluCrew for their loan of the audio equipment and their support on the night.
Our quiz winners on the night were one of the teams put
forward by the wonderful ladies of Winthrop Gardens (all volunteers that help
run the community gardens in Wickersley). The brilliantly titled Team “At Least
We Turned Up” won against a team of their compatriots in a last-minute tie
We have since been told by the group that they’re planning on using the chocolates as raffle prizes for their memory café events in support of people with dementia, and the prosecco for their Christmas volunteer support programmes.
It’s taken us a little while to confirm the total raised,
largely because wonderful people keep giving us extra donations, but we are
happy to announce that next week we will be handing over a cheque for £750
to Bluebell Wood (embarrassing photos of that event to follow via
Anne has confirmed the breakdown of totals to be £475 in
ticket sales and direct donations to Bluebell Wood, and £255 in raffle ticket
sales, donations etc on the night.
Again, we would like to
express a massive thank you to everyone that came along and supported us on the
night or has sent a donation before or since for Bluebell Wood Children’s
As you may be aware, HMRC have recently decided that small businesses have to join large businesses in filing their VAT returns online.
Which, in theory, makes things easier for both the small business and HMRC, and speeds up the process of paying your VAT bill, which HMRC are understandably keen on.
It also, considering that you need a program by which to submit your VAT online, has led to a boost for the companies that sell these programs (we’ve all seen the adverts on TV starring Sanjeev Bhaskar), and has led to a collective increase in the stress levels of small company finance teams across the country.
If, like us (or Anne, to be really specific) you have previously relied upon spread sheets for your accounts, this means that you have had to learn a whole new program with which to produce company accounts.
Considering that this hit us (metaphorically) between VAT sessions, Anne has been juggling both learning a new system as well as maintaining the spread sheets that she was using previously.
It’s been a stressful few months is what I’m getting at.
But hey, it was meant to make lives easier… which it does, once you’ve learned the system, input all the data, managed to persuade your system to link to the HMRC servers and then gone through all of the security questions.
I’m assured by Anne that connecting to the server was still marginally quicker than getting through to speak to an actual human being on the phone at HMRC.
Anyway, you upload your data online, you answer the six million security questions, you hit the little button to submit everything and then you pay your VAT bill.
And then Anne goes to relax with a G&T in hand and think about things much more fun than the accounts.
As has become traditional now we sent out our Christmas Cards at the beginning of the month and (we know we’re biased) Anne’s creativity has impressed us yet again this year.
It’s also been considerably easier on her hands than cutting out three hundred penguins was the other year!
It also means that before we can sign off for the holiday break and wish you all the appropriate seasons greetings, we probably ought to put you out of your misery and let you have the answers to the various quizzes! And so, in no particular order…
The Crossword answers:
The Wordsearch answers:
The anagram answers:
Cathe Mr Starfish
Rhys scram timer
Fortyfold rumor tax
From Taylor Tuxford
Ewan pay ph Rey
Happy New Year
We’re planning on closing the office from lunchtime on Friday 21st December until the New Year, so we’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and relaxed Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year for 2019.
It’s that time of year again when everyone starts building up for Christmas and the chaos it brings. For most of us that involves saving as much money as we can and making quite frankly ridiculous amounts of lists – Christmas presents, cards, food supplies… drink supplies for getting over the stress of making sure the other three lists are complete. There’s nothing worse than someone coming over to visit you, present in hand only for you to realise that you forgot to add them to one of your lists.
(Hence the ’emergency’ gifts everyone keeps stashed in over Christmas in the hope that no one visits so that they get to eat those chocolates themselves!)
For all of us at Taylor Tuxford Associates, the build up to the festive season marks one of our busiest times as we gear up for our Christmas fundraising sessions alongside our usual workload.
For those that might not know, we are part of a fundraising group known as Blu Crew. The group was founded initially with the primary aim of raising money for Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice, but has now branched out to help other local charities and fundraising groups. During December, Blu Crew’s primary fundraising efforts involve multiple sessions at various shopping areas around South Yorkshire singing carols and other Christmas songs.
We started our fundraising efforts last weekend by singing on Saturday at the Wickersley Christmas lights switch on and on Sunday at the Alhambra shopping centre, Barnsley.
(You’ll notice that Michelle managed to avoid being in the photo by claiming responsibility as photographer!)
We’ll be in action every weekend between now and the 16th December, so you can come and see some or even all of us at the following locations – you’ll know it’s us when you see Anne bopping along to the music!
Saturday 1st December: Crystal Peaks – indoor market area (10am – 4pm)
Sunday 2nd December: Ikea Sheffield (11am – 4pm)
Sunday 9th December: Crystal Peaks – Sainsburys (11am – 4pm)
Friday 14th December: Greenhill Lights switch on (5pm onwards)
Saturday 15th December: Crystal Peaks – indoor market area (10am – 4pm)
Sunday 16th December: The Alhambra, Barnsley (11am – 4pm)
Start/finish times are approximate, but we’ll be at those locations between those times, so come along and say hello… and be prepared for the folks with the collecting buckets!
I have just been reading an article in the July edition of “Building Engineer” – the monthly Journal of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE). I and all of our colleagues around the UK have for many years been proud of the range and breadth of topics covered by the Journal, which, in my opinion continues to punch above its weight.
One particular article caught my eye this month. It was penned by Jayne Hall, who is currently a Vice-President of the CABE and also a Past President of LABC, the national body for Local Authority Building Control in the UK. Jayne has recently also joined the Board of Trustees of the CABE Benevolent Fund, of which I am also proud to be a Trustee.
Jayne’s Journal article was explaining that the CABE Chief Executive Dr Gavin Dunn has asked her to take on the role of the CABE’s “Diversity Champion”. Jayne’s article reflects on the inalienable fact that the Construction Industry, even after years of effort, still has a poor record in regard to Equality and Diversity.
Jayne makes the observation, based on a recent professional conference in Somerset she had attended, that “…it was clear that the construction professions, and engineering in particular, are still dominated by the traditional white middle class male – also mostly well into middle age too…”
Okay, she just described me, but I do take Jayne’s point and I have to agree with her. During the six years that I sat on the Board of Directors of the CABE in the mid-2000s (at that stage it was still just called the ABE) there were typically about fifteen or so elected Directors and Honorary Officers, of whom I cannot recall there ever being more than three women elected to the Board at any one time. But to be fair, that merely reflected the proportion of women standing for election … though one can only wonder how much a lack of encouragement to our female members may have restricted the numbers willing to stick their head above the parapet?
Similarly, I regularly sit on interview panels assessing Candidates for admission to Chartered level Membership of the CABE and the ratio of male to female candidates in my experience, is well in excess of 10:1. And yet, two of the four most impressive Candidates I can recall interviewing over the past years have been female (take a bow Karen and Saira, you were both excellent). It has been suggested that women have to try harder to justify their place in the industry, which is truly a shame.
I chuckled at some of the examples Jayne quoted in her article though, of “reasons” (i.e. pitiful excuses) for the lack of women employed in high level positions, which apparently have ranged from “…the board room being an uncomfortable place for women…” to “…the issues discussed at board level are very complex…” Oh, deary me….
Now, the Taylor Tuxford Associates Board meetings typically cover a whole range of issues ranging through: technical difficulties regarding ongoing projects, to establishing our Corporate policy with regard to the General Data Protection Regulations, to where we’re going for the Christmas Party. My own experience has been that none of the issues arising at any of our Board meetings have caused any of my female colleagues to fall off their chairs with a bad case of “the vapours”… that only tends to happen when we run out of wine at the Christmas Party, and isn’t just restricted to my female colleagues!
For the record, I am pleased to say that three-quarters of the total number of employees and two-thirds of the construction-related technical team at Taylor Tuxford Associates are female and moreover, I am proud to have the opportunity to work with them.
Alright, so there are only four of us altogether and maybe, as Amy always says, you can prove anything you want to with statistics, but we honestly are trying our best in that regard and, like the CABE, we are punching above our weight when it comes to gender diversity in the workplace.
To finish on a serious note though, the construction industry still has an awfully long way to go in this regard. It is still a novelty to find a female on a construction site – whether in a supervisory or technical capacity or on the tools – and in part, this is likely related to the apparent tendency for blokes not to accept women co-workers as they would another bloke and the (understandable) reluctance of women not to want to expose themselves to the often-misogynistic attitudes of their male co-workers.
The place to make a start on addressing the diversity imbalance is in our Schools. Until such time as pupils in the advanced stages of preparing for their GCSEs are persuaded – irrespective of their gender, ethnic background or of any inherent disability – that Construction as a career will be a worthwhile thing to do, then we are still going to be having this discussion in a further 20 years’ time.
If there are any Schools out there in the South Yorkshire area that would like someone to come along and give a presentation to their pupils about a career in construction, we will be very happy to talk to you about that.
We are pleased to announce that we have been shortlisted as finalists in the Local Authority Building Control, Building Excellence Awards 2018 for the South Yorkshire and Humber region.
The Building Excellence Awards celebrate projects, companies, partnerships and individuals within the construction industry. Each of the 12 LABC regions across England and Wales hold their own Building Excellence Awards, with awards being given across 12 separate categories. One overall winner from each region is then selected to represent that region in the national awards finals later in the year.
We have been shortlisted for our work on a semi-derelict farmhouse in the Rotherham area. The project involved partial restoration of the fabric of the original building along with careful extension of the structure, resulting in a spacious, 6-bedroom family home.
As the original structure dated back to around 1770, a key focus of the project was to retain the style of the original farmhouse whilst incorporating modern heating and insulation systems to allow for a contemporary interior to be designed.
We will be attending the LABC regional finals on the 18 May along with our Client at what is certain to be an enjoyable evening with stiff competition from our fellow building professionals.
As some people might know, but most probably don’t, my main PhD project centered around an emergence of pyrite-related damage in Ireland. More to the point, the project looked at the damage caused by the expansion of pyritic mudrocks used as fill below domestic floor slabs.
Pyrite (chemical formula FeS2) is formed in low-oxygen environments such as those found in deep sea conditions, where organic-rich, fine grained sediments such as mudstone form. Many minerals that form in such environments are not stable under normal atmospheric conditions and so, when these minerals are exposed to air and water, they change to a more stable form. In the case of pyrite, it oxidises.
This exposure to air and water occurs naturally at the rock face in outcrops, although it is limited to the outer surface of the rock material. However, when the material is, for example, quarried and processed and compacted at optimum moisture content into the foundations of a domestic property, the outer surface of each individual fragment of rock is exposed to both air and moisture.
Exposure to the air and water has minimal direct effect on the mudstone, what it does is begin the process of oxidising and breaking down the pyrite crystals. One of the products of the oxidation is sulphuric acid, which means that the moisture in the fill also becomes acidic.
For many engineers, the problem stops there; or rather it starts there. Acidic groundwater is a key factor in sulphate attack on concrete, indeed, pyritic rock has itself been known to contribute to sulphate attack on concrete. Sulphate attack happens when ions from the acidic groundwater migrate from into the concrete causing reactions within the concrete matrix.
This migration of ions causes expansion of the concrete as secondary minerals such as gypsum, ettringite and thaumasite start to form within the matrix. This causes cracking and breakdown of the surface of the concrete, as the expansion overcomes the concrete’s tensile strength, and reduces the overall strength of the concrete in those areas. In severe cases, it can reduce the strength of the matrix to such an extent that the material can be broken apart by hand.
It will, if left long enough, result in the surface of the concrete, potentially to tens of millimetres depth, turning to what can be referred to as “mush”. This is an “accurate technical term”, more or less, and is wonderfully descriptive for what the material looks like after sulphate attack has been at work.
Sulphate attack on concrete was discovered when investigating the partial collapse of Carsington Dam in 1984. In this case, pyritic mudstone had been used to form the outer shoulders of the dam and, in order to prevent standing water, limestone drainage layers were added into that mudstone.
Unfortunately these drainage layers allowed for increased movement of water through the material, which meant that the acidic groundwater had easy access to buried concrete structures that subsequently suffered sulphate attack. Other problems linked to the pyrite at this site included blockage of drains due to precipitation of minerals, such as gypsum, and acid water runoff that required treatment before it could enter the local water system.
However, sulphate attack on concrete is only rarely seen in the Irish pyrite cases. Indeed, there was only one case that I looked at as part of my research where sulphate attack was confirmed to have occurred. In that case both ettringite and thaumasite were found in the upper few millimetres of the concrete ground beams.
However, in the cases that were the focus of the research, there were no confirmed cases of sulphate attack on concrete.
The problem with these properties instead leads back to the mention above about the mudstone material being organic-rich. The majority of the organic matter in the mudstone comes from decomposed micro-organisms that are primarily made of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Calcium carbonate reacts in the presence of acids to release carbon dioxide gas and calcium ions into solution. The calcium ions in turn react with the sulphate from the acid to form gypsum (CaSO4.2H2O).
The pyrite crystals found in the mudstone are generally on the scale of tens of microns in size. By contrast, the gypsum crystals can be around 100 times larger at a few millimetres in size. This means that the very process of replacing the pyrite with gypsum causes expansion of the material.
This expansion is increased by the way in which the gypsum preferentially precipitates along layers in the mudstone. This forces open these pre-existing lines, making the material expand and also allowing better access for air and moisture through the material, which furthers the reaction process.
As the mudstone is confined by the floor slab and the foundation walls, the expansion eventually reaches a point at which it exerts pressure on the underside of the floor slab and inside of the foundations. This in turn leads to upwards movement of the slab and, in some instances, outward movement of the foundation walls themselves.
The movement of the floor slab causes damage to the slab itself, as well as causing movement of and damage to structures sat on the floor slab. This includes movement of internal partition walls, and causes secondary effects such as doors not opening properly due to the uneven floor.
The amount of uplift often changes in amount across the floor slab in any given room, with humps often occurring towards the centre or one side of a given open space. Likewise, stellate cracking of the slab is common, although not always visible below fixed floor coverings such as tiles, although they may themselves show signs of cracking.
Shearing features are common where walls meet, especially where an internal stud partition (that has moved) meets an external wall (that has not moved). Cracks are also common around doors and in ceilings, occurring first along plasterboard seams and also at angles connecting seams with other features.
Much of this might sound familiar to an experienced engineer, several of the “features” of pyritic expansion are similar to those seen when settlement occurs at a property. Indeed, in several of the early pyrite cases the damage was assumed to be caused by foundation settlement and treated accordingly. It was only when damage reoccurred after repairs that other options were investigated.
Cases of pyritic heave damage in the UK are rare, however, they are not completely unheard of. There were a series of domestic properties in the Teesside area found to be affected in the 1970’s and a couple of isolated cases in Glamorgan in the 1980’s. The two cases in Glamorgan were related to pyritic bedrock rather than fill and so can be considered a little differently.
Still, materials containing pyrite can be common in the UK, from red ash colliery spoil which was used as fill, to mudrocks and shales formed as part of the Coal Measures.
Tests for sulphates can be carried out by most testing laboratories and samples can be obtained from simple trial pit or borehole methods. I know everyone expects the geotechnical engineer to say this, but proper site investigation is important; even a desk study looking at the geology and history of an area can highlight potential issues.
Any instance where these materials are exposed to air and water could result in the production of acidic groundwater, at which point the possibility of sulphate attack and gypsum production is a viable issue that should be considered in the design process.
All practising professional engineers, surveyors and architectural designers are required to undertake a certain amount of what is referred to as “Continuing Professional Development” or “CPD” for short. For example, as a Chartered Building Engineer and Fellow of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE), I am required to undertake a minimum of 35 hours per year of CPD.
Similar requirements are placed upon professionals in other disciplines / industries and the whole point is that one is expected to strive to maintain one’s knowledge of the latest developments and current thinking in the working environment. We would all hope that our Family Doctor will be up to speed on the latest methods of diagnosis and treatment of whatever ailments we may suffer from and the same applies in the construction industry.
CPD can take many forms. The importance of keeping abreast of the latest techniques for design and analysis are obvious, along with being aware of any recent legal cases – the judgements applied to which can impact particularly on how as an appointed Surveyor, one deals with for example, disputes under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996.
CPD can also include “horizon broadening activities” and the list here is as long as one cares to make it. As an example, our newest recruit Amy has been shadowing me on several site inspections lately. Although Amy is primarily a Geotechnical Engineer (translation – “a Geologist who has been drawn to the ‘dark side’ of Engineering”) the experience of seeing how others deal with boundary disputes, structural inspections and measurement surveys of buildings will be invaluable in improving not only her usefulness to the company but also, the breadth of her understanding of other elements of Building Engineering as they interface with her own, specialised areas of work.
I have the honour and pleasure to regularly sit on a panel of experienced professionals, interviewing prospective members of the CABE to determine that they have met the required standards of experience, knowledge and professionalism to be accepted as chartered members of the Association. One of the topics raised and discussed in the interview process is the candidate’s record of CPD attendance – not just in terms of the hours spent undergoing CPD, but also the quality of that CPD and its relevance to their work.
But, I honestly cannot remember ever being asked by a Client for details of my own CPD record at any stage during a project, let alone before they engage my services. Now, one might argue that the Client is entitled to take it for granted that, as a practising member of a professional organisation they will be on top of their obligations regarding CPD. It has been my experience that not all professionals take this as seriously as we would wish to believe.
For our Clients’ comfort and peace of mind, I can confirm that all of the technical staff at Taylor Tuxford Associates either meet or comfortably exceed the requirements of their professional bodies in terms of the hours of CPD they carry out each year.
I have just completed and submitted my CPD “return” for 2017 for 50 hours of CPD completed. Over the past three calendar years, my personal cumulative CPD attendances have been in excess of 190 hours in total. This includes some community work – for example, assisting local charitable organisations and groups with their construction-related issues and projects, including Bold Adventures in Bolsterstone and the Maltby Miners Memorial Trust, for whom we have been providing architectural and structural design assistance. We have also previously assisted on three projects locally for the BBCTV DIY SOS programme – it all helps.
Significantly, however, the CPD Hours that we register do not include time spent on other community work for non-construction related causes – primarily in our case, this would be the time that Michelle, Amy, Anne and me spend on fund raising activities for local and national charities through the entertainments group BluCrew – for details see elsewhere on our website on visit www.facebook.com/BluCrew/