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Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning


Living Laboratory for Sustainability

"the diverse building stock of the university is an under-used resource"– Dr Minna Sunnika Blank, Senior University Lecturer in Architecture


The Living Laboratory for Sustainability can supply data from buildings across the university estate for use in undergraduate, Master’s and PhD projects. Students can model energy use, heat regulation, efficiency, sustainability, profitability, user experience and many other things. Student projects can identify real improvements to be made on the university estate. For instance, one PhD student monitored the impact of putting a plantbox on the roof of the Engineering building.

 “students respond very positively to projects which are already in the news, in the public consciousness, in the local area . . . the reality of it, the immediacy of it and the timeliness of it are really important” – Professor Peter Guthrie, Professor in Engineering for Sustainable Development

Projects can be individual or group. In one Architectural Engineering course, all 70 students in the class worked in small groups using the same data on a coursework project that asked them to design an extension for the Fitzwilliam Museum. Or several students can look at different aspects of the same building, e.g. the heating system, plug load on electrical sockets and user satisfaction.

Living Lab “always comes through” with information and support for students – Dr Ruchi Choudhary, Reader in Architectural Engineering

Projects do not have to be technical. Some projects simply survey users about their experience of the building. One undergraduate did a project entitled “First we shape buildings, then buildings shape us”.

"a huge opportunity to expose students to things they can see and touch and walk past all the time" – Ms Kristen MacAskill,Construction Engineering Masters Associate Course Director

Living Lab can also arrange for members of the university’s Estate Management team to visit your class, using their experience to illustrate concepts that students had previously only learned about in the abstract.

Using the Living Lab's data in teaching is "a no-brainer because it's so easy and such a great resource" – Dr Ruchi Choudhary, Reader in Architectural Engineering

Living Lab is not just for Engineers and Architects! The data it provides lends itself to a range of subjects, from Psychology and Sociology, the Arts and Humanities (ecocriticism, anyone?), Law, Business, Geography, Land Economy and Materials Science to subjects that model with data such as Maths, Physics and Computer Science. Peter Guthrie, Professor in Engineering for Sustainable Development, says there are “an almost unlimited number of projects for students to get involved in”.  

Interested in finding out more? Contact Emily Dunning on  or visit the Living Laboratory’s webpage.



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