UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering


Getting out of London helps students rethink ‘smart’ and ‘healthy’ building strategies

19 November 2019

On a recent trip to Bath, our Master’s students took a moment to reflect on their studies and what the ancient Romans can teach modern society about health, wellbeing, architecture and engineering.

Photo shows the Roman Baths in Bath, UK.

Authors: Helen Pineo, Meliss Trevino Trevino, Fanfan Miao and Xinhui Peng

Taking time out of classes gives all of us a chance to reflect on the purpose of our studies in the Bartlett, building a better environment for people and the planet. Our trip to Bath takes in engineering and architecture lessons from the ancient Romans and modern solutions to 21st century problems with a visit to Buro Happold. We take time out to be creative, apply our knowledge through design and get to know each other over meals and the journey. 

As the new Programme Director for the MSc Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Buildings I was pleased to see this year’s cohort joined by the MSc Smart Buildings and Digital Engineering students mixing their diverse backgrounds and perspectives to reflect on what they are studying and next steps. The students’ passion for leveraging their professional knowledge and experience to tackle tough issues came across strongly. I think this cohort has a bright year ahead. This post gives some perspectives from the students on the trip and might be useful to prospective students considering these programmes. – Dr Helen Pineo

How did the trip link to the material you are learning on the course?

We are learning about different cooling and heating methods, either passive and active, and getting to know that some of those methods come from our Roman ancestors, seemed very interesting to me. And the visit to Buro Happold Engineering where they explained their collaboration with the Bath Abbey restoration works, and how concepts we are actually seeing in our lectures are being applied in that project was really amazing. – Meliss 

The Abbey’s new underfloor heating system will harness the heat energy in Bath’s hot spring water. This new heating system will reduce the Abbey’s carbon emissions by 50%. It reminds me of the goal of our Integrated Building Design coursework, towards which we should try to use passive means as much as possible to heat up the buildings. – Fanfan

Combining the Abbey's heating system with Bath's famous hot springs fully takes local conditions and resources into consideration, which is quite similar to passive design techniques about utilizing local resources.  – Xinhui 

What is the value of travelling with your peers at this point in the programme?

Being with your peers in a different environment that is not school, is really important, (…) there is a lot to learn from every single person and their culture. – Meliss

Besides the orientation week, we do not have many opportunities to communicate with each other. This field trip has provided us with various activities, during which we cooperate and learn with our peers, which is of great help to our coursework later. – Fanfan 

Completing some projects via group cooperation allows us to understand some of the different ideas and backgrounds of students, which complements a project. – Xinhui

Did the trip get you thinking about your career path or future studies?

Yes, it made me think about my future professional steps after this master’s, but also about how I am going to keep being involved in environmental consciousness. – Meliss

Before this trip … I was not sure whether I would find an ideal job after I graduated. During this trip, many speakers shared their experience with us. They are successful now, but many changes have taken place before they arrived at this stage in life. I hope I can learn to face changes and failures directly in future. – Fanfan 

What can the ancient Romans teach modern society about health and wellbeing (or architecture/engineering)?

Their idea of Bath Spa completely links to human health and wellbeing because they implement this activity of self-cleaning, both physically and emotionally with this bathing process. It’s also about how they promoted interaction between people. A very important part of a person’s healthy life and wellbeing is how they socialise and get along with the people that surround them. – Meliss

Around a natural resource – hot spring water – the ancient Romans organised social events and places for people to connect with each other. They invented underfloor heating system to relieve body pain. – Fanfan

The design of the hot room in the baths was quite interesting. The floors were hollow structures with stones stacked underneath the floor. Steam passes through it and then permeates out of the floor gap. This design makes the steam more evenly distributed. – Xinhui