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Edinburgh Napier University students lead world-first construction project in China

International team build pioneering, environmentally friendly bamboo-timber composite grid shell during trip backed by Turing Scheme funding.
Edinburgh Napier University students working on the bamboo-timber composite grid shell structure in Guangxi, China.

A team of students from Edinburgh Napier University (ENU) helped to complete a world-first construction project during a month-long placement in China supported by the Turing Scheme.

The first bamboo-timber composite grid shell structure of its kind was built in Guangxi with the help of 13 students from Edinburgh Napier’s Department of Built Environment, working alongside counterparts from Guangxi University of Science and Technology and Inner Mongolia University of Science and Technology.

It is hoped the finished 12×12 metre construction will help to develop sustainable building methods in the fight to mitigate climate change. Bio-based materials such as timber and engineered bamboo are increasingly being embraced by the construction industry in its efforts to achieve environmentally friendly building solutions.

Bamboo’s strength and flexibility, as well as its wide availability as a natural resource, make it a viable material for large-span roof structures in the future.

The Edinburgh team that travelled to China in June included students of Architectural Technology and Building Performance, Advanced Structural Engineering and Civil Engineering, all of whom used the knowledge and expertise learned on their courses to contribute to the building effort in a variety of roles.

Moses Okon Nseabasi took on the role of construction project manager during the build, working closely with a diverse team of students from all the partner universities. Building was done from early evening into the night to avoid extreme daytime heat in China at the time, and the students also had heavy rain to contend with at times.

“The Turing Scheme provided crucial support that allowed our UK-based team to bridge the gap and join forces with our counterparts in China,” said Moses. “With this backing, we embarked on an extraordinary journey, bringing together students from Edinburgh Napier University, Guangxi University of Science and Technology, and Inner Mongolia University of Science and Technology.

“Our shared goal was to pioneer sustainable construction. We realized the immense power of international collaboration. Working side by side with students from Guangxi and Inner Mongolia, we not only acquired valuable knowledge but also broadened our horizons.

Sincere gratitude to the Turing Scheme

“This experience was an eye-opener, not just in terms of construction techniques but also in terms of the rich cultural tapestry that influences the built environment. It was an education in its own right, one that expanded our understanding of the world.”

Moses also believes that his work during the trip was instrumental in helping him gain employment after the successful completion of his Construction Project Management Master’s degree in Edinburgh.

“The skills I honed during the project helped me secure a full-time job in Scotland shortly after my return from China,” he added. “It was the practical experience, the ability to manage complex projects, and the cross-cultural competencies I developed that made the difference in the competitive job market.”

Zara Rafiq took part on the project whilst studying for her Master’s in Architectural Technology and Building Performance at Edinburgh Napier.

“The experience broadened my horizons in ways I could never have imagined,” she said. “The interactions I had with the local community and fellow academics left a lasting impression on me.

“I was fortunate to meet incredible individuals who shared their knowledge, insights, and perspectives. These interactions not only enriched my project but also expanded my understanding of the world and its diverse cultures.

“The impact of this journey extends far beyond the completion of a successful project. It has ignited a passion for international collaboration, cross-cultural exchange, and innovative research that will undoubtedly shape the direction of my academic and professional pursuits.

“My sincere gratitude goes out to the Turing Scheme for making this life-changing event possible.”

Project lead Professor Johnson Zhang, from Edinburgh Napier’s School of Computing, Engineering & the Built Environment, said: “This project showcased the pioneering research in bio-based construction at Edinburgh Napier University.

“It also serves as a testament to the immense potential of innovative sustainable construction technology in shaping a better future for the greener built environment we are creating.

“It was a privilege working with our Team BE-Napier and other two partner university student groups, together we formed a professional, dedicated and creative team. I enjoyed every moment of working with them.”

A number of the students who were involved in the project have graduated since returning to Scotland and, as well as their ENU degrees, they and the other participants were presented with tiles made from the same bamboo-based material as the grid shell as a memento of their role in its creation.

The project also helped to raise the profile of ENU, and the Department of Built Environment, as it has garnered coverage in construction industry media as well as being shortlisted in the Youth Champion category of the 2023 Holyrood Climate Action Awards. The team are also in talks with Guinness World Records about establishing a record for the construction.

Find out more about higher education funding opportunities with the Turing Scheme

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