Researchers use HIVE to test latest building methods

A new research facility in Wiltshire is set to advance the development of sustainable construction materials and systems.

Funded by EPSRC, the £1m HIVE facility will allow construction companies and researchers to conduct realistic, full-scale testing of their facade designs in open-air conditions.

HIVE, located at Bath University’s Building Research Park in Swindon, consists of eight cells that are insulated from one another, each with a single face left exposed to the external environment.

The cells themselves will let researchers analyse the environmental impact of construction materials including their energy efficiency, flood resilience, structural capability and internal air quality.

‘People are interested in looking at the latest iteration of their products and trying to compare them with previous iterations or with competitive products to see whether or not the performance is something to shout about,’ said Dr Mike Lawrence, director of the Building Research Park.

He cautioned, however, that related projects are beset with issues surrounding finding a suitable location to build, gaining planning permission and installing the infrastructure to carry projects out.

Dr Lawrence said: ‘[HIVE is] plug-and-play…we’ve already got the data loggers, all the infrastructure, weather stations, communications [etc.].

‘They can, on day one, start their programme, which saves between six months to a year of time.

‘At the other end when you’ve finished your programme, you often have to deconstruct your building and put everything back to where it started. Again, we’ve got processes where the whole thing can happen much more quickly and effectively.’

Sixteen platforms will be available alongside HIVE for researchers to construct pods of up to 125m3 enabling flexible testing of construction systems and performance.

‘We can whack [buildings] up very quickly because the foundations are already there and when the experiment’s finished take it down and put something else up straight away – all of the infrastructure is there,’ said Dr Lawrence.

Carbon footprint

The construction industry is widely acknowledged as having a considerable carbon footprint, a situation that Dr Lawrence is keen to redress.

‘The construction industry is responsible for half of global emissions, that’s an enormous amount and big target to hit,’ he said. ‘Let’s try and hit it, let’s both improve its on-going performance but also…make a building with a lower carbon footprint actually embedded into it.

‘So instead of putting in lots of steel and concrete, let’s put in materials which have much lower environmental impact, or indeed where the energy input into building [a structure] is less than the energy stored within the fabric of that building if you convert it into carbon dioxide.’

 Inside the HIVE:

  • a hygrothermal cell to evaluate movement of heat and moisture through buildings, energy efficiency, air tightness and acoustic efficiency;
  • a double-height and width cell that can be used for flexible construction design, testing façades, internal walls and floors, together with a strong roof, allowing for load testing;
  • a flood cell that can be used for testing the resistance of construction materials to high water levels or for testing technologies that resolve the effects of flood damage;
  • a bladder cell that enables the testing of construction panels against horizontal loading such as wind load and geotechnical forces.