A team of Strathclyde undergraduate students have been crowned runners up in the Engineering for People Design Challenge, run by Engineers Without Borders UK.

Held in partnership with Engineers Without Borders South Africa and the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CfAT), Australia, this year’s competition was centred on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities’ relationship to their land.

The Strathclyde team included Emma Robinson, Angus Dickson, Cameron Barclay, Nurfadhilah Binti Adnan from the Department Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Kira Peper who was on exchange from TU Dortmund University.

Innovative design

The judges were impressed with the team’s innovative design for housing in the vast Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, northern Australia, and praised their understanding of the communities’ needs and local material availability.

The students’ project aims to further enable the movement of indigenous communities back through implementation of socially and structurally appropriate housing throughout the Peninsula.

Rammed earth

Their idea used rammed earth technique, a sustainable form of construction using locally-sourced soil reducing the need for materials transport. They designed a reusable prefabricated kit which can be transported easily between build locations, with any required building maintenance able to be carried out by the communities themselves.

The people of Cape York suffered during the colonisation of Australia in 1788, but after the reinstatement of indigenous land rights in the 1970s, traditional owners are returning to the land previously occupied by their ancestors.

This movement is aided by engineering development to support living in remote locations.

Sustainable engineering

Professor Vern Phoenix, Civil and Environmental Engineering Head of Department, said:

“We are incredibly proud of the team. Students are the lifeblood of our department and their success is a great reflection of the excellence of our students and their commitment to using sustainable engineering principles to solve today’s most pressing challenges.” 

The unique competition engages university students to consider the social, economic and environmental impact of their engineering by inviting them to develop place-appropriate solutions that could be applied to a real-life community.

Modular housing

The contest has a total of 8,000 participating students, and a second Strathclyde team was also selected to compete in the Grand Finals for their flexible and large scale modular housing delivery system design.

The students benefitted from insights from social impact expert and Visiting Professor at Strathclyde, Ana Maria Esteves.

The class lead, Chancellor’s Fellow and Senior Lecturer Dr Jen Roberts, said:

“Both Strathclyde teams selected for the Grand Finals have been brilliant. Community participation, sustainable and place-appropriate engineering were at the heart of their designs, and that’s what this class, and this Design Challenge, is all about.”

Strathclyde’s Alumni Fund supported  the teams to attend the Grand Final and as runners-up, the team received a £500 educational bursary to share between the team.

Judging panel

The students had to pitch their concept to a judging panel of academics, non-governmental organisations and industry experts.

Strathclyde students have made the top six teams for three consecutive years, winning the competition in 2017. This year, University College Dublin took the top prize with their concept, ‘Tapatapment’, developing a water filtration unit designed for water taps, created from bamboo shoots

Judge John Kraus CEO of Engineers Without Borders UK, said:

“Tapatapment perfectly represented the ethos of the design challenge. Addressing a practical problem by using materials that are easily accessible, effective and provide a sustainable solution for the local community.”

A third prize, the Peoples Prize, goes to any team through a popular vote.

To date, more than 60,000 undergraduates have undertaken the Design Challenge across Cameroon, South Africa, the UK and Ireland and the USA.