' the Woodlouse: October 2014


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Interconnectedness of All Things

A couple of weeks ago I started the new MSc Sustainability and Adaptation in the Built Environment course at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales. I was unfeasibly nervous before heading up there for the first week. I don't remember being anything like as anxious when last going to University 16 years ago to start a ceramics degree, but this time I was imagining anything and everything that could go wrong, from randomly not being registered on the course when I arrived, to public humiliation and being exposed as the only ignorant one, surrounded by highly knowledgeable and intelligent people. As the journey progressed and time drew on all these worries were eclipsed by the all encompassing horror that I might miss dinner!

Thankfully I made it in time to enrol, meet my room mate for the week, and eat. As it turned out, all the other new students were equally ignorant or knowledgeable, coming from a diverse range of backgrounds and bringing different experiences. I won't talk at length about the course because fellow new student Helen Kennedy has already written a brilliant account of the week and the issues it introduced us to here: http://blog.cat.org.uk/2014/09/30/transition-people-transformation-people/ and I highly recommend reading it.

It was amazing and intense. A huge amount of information was thrown at us, all really interesting or fascinating, all really important. In some ways it was quite a doom-laden week. A lot of the lectures summarised the effects, dangers and extent of human-made climate change and just how much a challenge it is to adapt society to it, and to avoid potential catastrophe. It was also (thankfully) optimistic, as the beginnings of solutions were suggested (these will be expanded upon throughout the course) and the general drive was to motivate us to action. There was also a lot of talk of the interconnectedness of the different subject areas and approaches. This is very important, but also made me smile everytime the phrase was mentioned as I couldn't help thinking of Douglas Adams and Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, in which the detective seeks to solve the cases he is given through investigating "the interconnectedness of all things".

I came away from the week exhausted but buzzing. The people were lovely to be around, both students and staff, and it felt like a wrench to leave them all behind. We'll all be back there is less than a fortnight though, and I can't wait.

And as seems to be the habit of this blog, after that blurb - here's some pretty pictures.

The view from my bedroom at CAT

'Where it all began' - clay plaster samples on the wall of the outside area where I first learned to strawbale build, on a course taught by the wonderful Bee Rowan of http://www.strawbuild.org/

Inside one of the reed-bed poly-tunnels at CAT, where plants and useful bacteria treat the sewage run-off from the site

A creation by previous architecture students at CAT, known as The Bird Hide, although it isn't one.

Another ex-students beautiful creation

The WISE building (Wales Institute for Sustainable Education), home of the Graduate School of the Environment at CAT

The site is an old slate quarry, so there's a lot of this.

Part of an old water-turbine exhibit (I think)

The rammed earth wall of the main lecture theatre in the WISE building.

I think this is an old water-wheel housing, now ingeniously re-used as part of the rainwater management for the WISE building.

Roof light in an upstairs study/meeting room

A small sample of drawings from the Professional Diploma Architecture students (ProfDips) who are at CAT at the same time as the MSc students and share some of the same lectures.

Another view of the terrace, just outside my bedroom window.

Working on the group practical. I think this was the "have we lost the whole presentation" moment (we hadn't, phew!).

Picnic table

The biscuit Union Flag, offered around by the Scottish contingent in the wake of the referendum with the words "help me break up the UK".

We celebrated/commiserated the referendum result with a Ceilidh, brilliantly organised by Kirsty Cassels

The outside of the lecture theatre by night

The view from the upstairs study/seminar room

Presentations on the last day, showing and discussing the results of our group practicals

An unexpected side-effect of the first week is that I've learned to really appreciate clear presentation of data. I even enjoyed creating graphs in Excel. Strictly speaking, I didn't particularly enjoy the process of creating them, but I was really pleased with them when we had (no photos of my groups' presentation exist)

Squeezed between the incredibly full lecture/seminar schedule was a goodly amount of drinking tea, chatting, debating and gesticulating.

On the way home I visited a friend - these are some lovely bricks in his house

Giants Chair in the Forest of Dean

Tree Cubed in the Forest of Dean

More sculpture in the Forest

Inside the writing at the Wales Millennium Centre, with Mum, also on the way home.