Published: 16 March 2022

Students see the sky’s the limit on site visit

First year civil engineering students got the chance to see how the theory of lightweight roofing structures is put into practice when they visited Festival Place shopping centre in Basingstoke.

Students attended the site on two visits during February as preparation for Surrey’s unique Design, Assemble and Dismantle (DAD) Project in which they work in groups to design and construct their own structure using parts from a provided kit.

Organised by Dr Alireza Behnejad with PhD students Maria Lascu and Pablo Vallhonrat Blanco, the visits were aimed at exposing students to real life examples of the practical solutions – such as truss structures, lattice structures and tensile membranes – which engineers develop in response to complex challenges. They learned about the flexibility, transparency and recyclability of membrane structures and the potential advantages and disadvantages of these lightweight structures.

Students were also shown a unique structural system made of foil cushion pillows filled with air and maintained under pressure by an inflation unit. Because of the cushions’ thin membranes and the internally pressurised roofing, these systems are susceptible to damage, and students found out what happens when deterioration such as condensation occurs.

The visit was part of the first year Integrated Design 1 module which includes training in specialised software for designing membrane structures, and an assignment where students are challenged to propose a design concept for a shelter to cover the University amphitheatre, leading up to the DAD Project.

Dr Behnejad said: “Having a balance between theory and practice is crucial in engineering education. Getting hands-on experience and dealing with real life examples helps students to develop more practical solutions.”


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