University improves practical skills

A brand new facility containing equipment able to assess the lighting, acoustics and thermal efficiency of buildings has been installed at the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at Kingston University.
The Architectural Science and Technology Laboratory, more widely known as the ArchiLab, is being used by students and researchers to hone practical skills and analyse complex design issues. Established with a grant of more than £40,000 from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Science Research Investment Fund, it was officially opened on 20 March.

Director Dr Stephen Pretlove said the centre, located within the School of Architecture and Landscape at the Knights Park campus, had three principal purposes. It would lead to a greater assimilation of science and technology into course teaching and boost specialist research. Its advanced equipment would also give academic staff more scope to share their knowledge through externally-funded consultancy work.

The ArchiLab’s features include an artificial sky created by mirrors and lights positioned to reproduce a typical overcast day. The setting enables students to compare external daylight levels with those inside model buildings. Another high-specification piece of diagnostic equipment, the heliodon, allows users to investigate the way direct sunlight affects a structure depending on its location and seasonal variations. Students also have access to sound meters, thermal imaging apparatus and ventilation testing devices.

The days in which architecture students focused predominantly on the visual impact of buildings were long gone, Dr Pretlove said. “They are now required to give just as much thought to the wider specifications of a site and the environmental factors that might affect a final design. By encouraging a more considered, hands-on approach to teaching and learning, the ArchiLab will help them embrace the practical elements of design while they master the theory to become industry professionals,” he said.

The ArchiLab will also serve as a resource for practising architects who will be encouraged to make use of the facility to test their own models and plans. “This will give us the means to generate income as well as provide a service while, at the same time, forging relationships with built environment experts and integrating the School in the wider community,” Dr Pretlove said.

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