CityU students win international design award

Mirror Fung

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Two students from City University of Hong Kong (CityU) took the top prize at the Young Structural Engineers’ International Design Competition (YSEIDC) with an innovative design of a shelter for accommodation following a natural disaster.

Yeung Carman and Cacin Wong Po-ying, both Year 4 students of the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering (ACE), received the prestigious Drury Medal (for the best entry in the under-25 category) and collected £2,500 in prize money at an award ceremony in London, outshining 160 entries from around the world.

Their winning project, titled “Small Bag Big Life”, provides a quick and easy way to build comfortable temporary or permanent shelters for victims of natural disaster using earth bags.

“The major materials are earth, barbed wires, bags and timber trusses. It is highly recommended to use local resources because transporting other construction materials to the affected zone may be difficult. Earth is the most abundant and cheapest material in this extreme situation. Our method is fast, low-cost and environmental friendly as the least energy is used to produce the necessary materials” said Carman.

The compacted earth bags, filled with coarse sand, clay, silt and lime, a stabiliser, show excellent behaviour on resistance, fire-proofing ability and insulation. Stretcher bond is applied to consolidate the earth bag structure. In between of each layer, installed barbed wires prevent the movement of the bags and strengthen the general tension, she added.

Their design not only focuses on the construction method, but also pays attention to the arrangement of the shelters. “We aim to build a community which helps the victims increase their sense of belonging,” said Cacin.

The community they designed, which is in a rhombic shape, includes four subdivisions, one medical centre and one educational centre. The hexagonal residential area is in the centre of each subdivision. Kitchens and canteens are located to the east and west, respectively. Four restroom areas are situated in north and south sides.

“It is estimated that there are 3 to 4 people in one family. Thus, it can house about 500 people in one subdivision and 2,000 in one community. The subdivision is designed in a circular shape to enhance accessibility. Resources can be kept in the community centre for better division of labour. Additionally, the two lateral-side kitchens we designed make distribution of food quicker and easier,” Cacin explained.

“The construction does not require much professional skill, therefore unskilled workers, such as survivors, can help build the shelters, which can alleviate the psychological trauma of the survivors, according to the adjudicators of the competition. They also said our method was simple and practical, and the flexible approach can adapt to different circumstances,” added Cacin.

Both students said the innovative learning environment and the practical knowledge they have obtained at CityU helped them win the award. “CityU provides professional education that enhances our innovation and exploration of new ideas. The training we have received equips us with necessary skills and knowledge to contribute towards a better development of the built environment. We are glad to have won this award. In the presentation ceremony in London, we met other young structural engineers and exchanged views with them. It was a memorable and exciting experience,” Carman said.

“Given that the workload is quite heavy as final-year students, Carman and Cacin are still willing to participate in this international competition with the passion of helping people in the disaster-affected places and eventually they can manage the time nicely with the recognition of their design. I feel very proud of them indeed,” said Dr Denvid Lau Tak-bun, Assistant Professor of ACE and supervisor of Carman and Cacin.

“We would like to thank sincerely the teachers and staff from ACE and the Office of Education Development and Gateway Education for their huge support, especially Dr Denvid Lau, Dr Lam Heung-fai, Dr Wu Yufei, Dr Charlie Xue Qiuli, Dr Eric Chan Po-kwok and Mr Frankie Fan Tsz-ki. They helped us revise our proposal and prepare the 3D model,” said Cacin.

YSEIDC is organised by The Institution of Structural Engineers, the world’s largest membership organisation dedicated to the art and science of structural engineering. The Institution has over 27,000 members working in 105 countries around the world.

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