Exploring Sustainable Building Engineering in France: A Transformative Summer School Experience
By Ryan O’Donnell, fifth year MEng (Hons) Civil Engineering
This summer I went on an exciting exchange program to study sustainable building engineering at Builders University (ESITC) in Caen – one of France’s grandes écoles offering civil engineering higher education.
I decided to go because Builders University has a focus on “learning by doing”, and having missed out on many in-person labs due to coronavirus restrictions, this seemed a perfect opportunity to make up for those experiences. What was especially appealing about the workshop was the many organised field trips which allowed us to see the beauty of France alongside completing project work, which set a really nice work-life balance.
Learning by doing
The workshop was incredibly powerful, I gained a huge amount of new knowledge and developed a wide range of new skills that are essential for my future development as an engineer. Additionally, it also gave me invaluable new insights into working internationally, something I previously would have never considered.
During the workshop I got to learn and practice using 3D modelling software commonly used in the industry such as Revit, Infraworks and Pleiades. I learned how to create architectural models to building information modelling (BIM) standards, how to import them into a landscape model for conceptual design purposes and how to convert them into structural models so they can be used for structural analysis later on.
I also learned about the problems that climate change is creating for current energy systems, potential solutions to overcome them, as well as how to perform energy analyses of buildings using Pleiades thermodynamic modelling software.
I got to practice applying these new skills through a project which involved the design of a new building, the renovation of an existing building and the urban development of the Caen peninsula. This project was very interesting because the peninsula was at high risk of flooding, with sea levels expected to rise by up to 4m in 50 years’ time.
Combined with the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change, this made the constraints on this project very challenging to overcome. This project not only encouraged us to think about sustainable building practices, but also to design long term solutions that are resilient to future problems.
The workshop was made particularly special by the organised field trips which took us to see amazing places such as Le Mont Saint Michel, Le Havre and Caen. Additionally, at the weekends during our free time my fellow Edinburgh peers and I went out to visit the wonders of France such as Paris, Rouen and Le Mans which were easily accessible by train. This was an amazing way to see France as well as learn about French architecture and the brilliant engineering that had been used to protect, construct and even reconstruct these places.
This workshop was one of the greatest experiences I have had at university. The standard of work was very high, student life was very enjoyable and the activities done during the workshop were really exciting. No two days were the same, this was the best way I could have started off the summer.