Learning environment and resources
Residential on-site block learning weeks are taught at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), a truly unique and inspiring learning environment. Nestled in a disused slate quarry on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park, CAT is a living laboratory contains some of the most innovative and renowned environmentally conscious buildings in the country, as well as one of the most diverse range of installed renewable technologies, on site water and sewage treatment, sustainably managed woodland and acres of organic gardens.
Wales Institute for Sustainable Education
This iconic building was named building of the year by the Telegraph in 2010, it also won a internationally recognised RIBA award in 2011. Designed by CAT architects Pat Borer and David Lea, it includes:
- a 200-seat circular lecture theatre made from rammed earth
- Three large classrooms/workspaces/labs and two further smaller seminar rooms
- A computer suite
- Foyer with games, books and a bar
- 24 en-suite twin bedrooms, overlooking a large open roof garden and decking
The building incorporates a number of innovative materials and design techniques which are being monitored through research within the Graduate School of the Environment:
- Low embodied energy building materials including hemp and lime, rammed earth, timber frame construction, FSC certified timber throughout
- Innovative insulation materials including cork, volcanic rock and hemp.
- Low heat demand with passive solar design, low-temperature underfloor heating and heat recovery ventilation.
- Use of natural daylighting throughout.
These new facilities have transformed the physical learning environment where we run the programme. They providing a variety of comfortable, enjoyable, professional environments. Students are immersed in a building that embodies the teaching in the programme.
CAT has one of the largest ranges of installed renewable systems anywhere. These presently include:
- Photovoltaics: 20kW building integrated array, 1.6kW example domestic array, an installer training facility, numerous smaller on and off-grid systems and examples of a range of different module and inverter technologies and PV water pumping;
- Solar thermal: A large-scale evacuated-tube system for WISE, and several domestic-scale examples of various different collector and system types.
- Off-grid, grid-connected and micro-grid systems: Example battery banks and other off-grid equipment, grid-linked systems and a novel hybrid system.;
- Biomass heating systems: A HETAS certified installer training facility including pellet and log batch boilers, associated equipment and teaching aids. Other biomass boilers, stoves and a district heating system;
- Hydroelectricity: Two grid-connected Pelton wheel turbines as well as teaching systems and displays including examples of other turbine types;
- Heat pumps: Air and water source heat pumps;
- Wind Power: A range of small wind turbines and a larger-scale community owned wind turbine behind the site.
Library and other resources
All equipment needed for practical work taught on the programme is provided. Students are expected to have their own computer (ideally laptop).
Full library resources are provided through an online ATHENS account and the UEL library. Students can also apply to the SOCNUL card scheme, providing access to any participating University library in the UK, subject to the restrictions of that scheme.
A diverse range of display and research items around the site and a wide range of monitoring equipment (temperature data loggers, light meters, wind monitoring equipment, thermal imaging camera etc.) may all be useful for students research and dissertation work.
The restaurant at CAT will provide all the food you need during your residential weeks. The food is so tasty and diverse that you might even forget it is vegetarian. Some of the food cooked here is grown on site, particularly the leafy salads, tomatoes, courgettes and squashes in season.
Whilst you are on site for modules you are likely to encounter other people involved in one of the multitude of activities that take place at CAT. The visitors centre attracts people from Easter through to the autumn, with childrens activities running through the school holidays. Visitors arrive via a water-balanced funicular railway, and enjoy the buildings, gardens and gift shop during their visit.
The on site shop also sells snacks, and a wide range of relevant books.
Short courses run from February through to November, in a wide range of topics including ecology and identification, woodland crafts, green building, renewable energy and water.
There are also school groups regularly on site, either just visiting for the day to enjoy workshops with our education team, or staying in the eco-cabins – a pair of off-grid cabins where residents must carefully manage their use of fuel, electricity and water.