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Last edited 17 Dec 2021
Architectural Technology research at Robert Gordon University
The Institute, as part of its accreditation procedures, recognises educational establishments as Centres of Excellence for demonstrating a robust research culture, which has a direct and significant impact on the discipline of Architectural Technology. Not only do educational establishments prepare future professionals, they are also responsible for some of the innovation which is being adopted by industry. The research institutes within our four Centres of Excellence were highlighted in AT Journal in 2021 and we continue this issue with Robert Gordon University.
 The Scott Sutherland School at Robert Gordon University
Research within the Scott Sutherland School takes an applied and integrated approach, where projects, studies and activity extend across all disciplines and engage with a wide range of external clients and end users. The School has tended towards undertaking research with external research partners, where these have included other universities and research organisations, as well as partners from industry and government. Indeed, with regards to external funding for research, we have tended to find most success within applied studies, including those funded through Interreg North Sea Region and the EU Horizon and Framework programmes. This has tended to mean that connections between research, dissemination and applications are fairly seamless, and it has been heartening to see the influence on policy and practice.
Our research is also integrated across themes, in that whilst we are able to present compelling clusters of activity within the groupings of ‘digital cities and society’ and ‘healthy housing’, inclusion in and membership of these groups is open and based on participation and collaboration. Within the discipline area of Architectural Technology, we have over the past few years witnessed a transformation in terms of access to - and applied use of - digital technologies. Whether this involves digital modelling of the built environment to support environmental analysis, recording of the built heritage within conservation studies or the application of technology to digitally monitor the performance of buildings, it has been gratifying to see a migration of cutting-edge technology from the research domain into teaching and practice. Indeed, it is also true to say that the drive towards this migration came from both staff and students alike, and has enabled the School to develop an Architectural Technology discipline area where innovation and exploration are at the heart.
Important to the activity has been the support from external funders to explore subjects including sustainable (and smart) urban mobility, digital cultural heritage, improvement of energy performance in historic buildings and the design and fabrication of cutting-edge housing. All of these areas are of direct relevance to the discipline of Architectural Technology and help to ensure that our students are equipped to appreciate and understand the likely direction of our industry in the coming years.
Our work within the focus area of digital cities and society has developed through the completion of numerous commissions concerning digital representations of the built environment. Early studies included studies concerning digital heritage, with a concentration on the use of such material to foster and support end user engagement. Utilising technology including both laser scanning and photogrammetry, the outcomes and methods have shown themselves to be readily transferable across different contexts and have increasingly found a place within teaching of built heritage conservation.
The group has undertaken studies concerning the development of digital models of towns and cities – including Aberdeen and numerous locations across Scotland – and has been able to explore and demonstrate how this can be applied in urban, infrastructure and mobility projects. Indeed, work concerning urban mobility (funded across projects supported by Interreg and the EU) has benefited from the application of digital data capture to record and represent the physical outcomes.
One aspect of the work which has developed in a clear direction is that of digital and visual asset management, where it has been fascinating to explore the use of digital twins within urban planning, design and building information modelling. This indicates that the now established expertise of the technologist with regard to digital modelling and simulation can naturally extend into later stages of the life cycle. Work undertaken with the support of the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre has explored the use of digital prototyping to support fabrication and is likewise primed to find a pervasive place within mainstream practice in the coming years.
One of the longest established areas of research within the School has been that of housing design, and this has taken a number of distinct yet connected routes. Pioneering work undertaken during the 1990s in the field of affordable housing design and production led to groundbreaking research concerning low energy and sustainable housing. Finding clear and established space within both practice and teaching, the work was notable in that it challenged perceptions of housing materials, required changed behaviour from occupants and had a fundamental impact on notions of cost, value and market supply and demand.
In recent years, that work has focussed on user and community engagement and offers examples of participatory and co-design of housing. Whether the work has been undertaken with private clients or housing associations, the inclusive and creative approach to the development of design briefs and the housing which is finally constructed has in itself influenced the manner in which findings are transferred into practice, and the approaches which are suggested and encouraged within our own student community. It has often been shown that the UK has a large housing stock which was designed and constructed at times predating the advent of low energy and sustainable design.
An important strand of research within the healthy housing group has therefore concerned retrofitting of environmentally appropriate solutions to energy performance. This has been applied within historically important architecture, as well as within a fascinating range of housing dating from throughout the 20th century and built using locally specific materials (including granite) or with non-traditional construction detailing. Again, the impact of this work on the quality of life for occupants has been significant and extremely positive.
This article originally appeared in the Architectural Technology Journal (at) issue 138 published by CIAT in summer 2021. It was written by Professor Richard Laing and Tahar Kouider MCIAT, Robert Gordon University.
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