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The balance between adaptability and optimisation in building design

   Department of Civil and Structural Engineering

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  Dr D Densley Tingley  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project



Applications are invited for a 4 year PhD studentship in collaboration with TATA steel. This is an exciting opportunity to improve the sustainability of buildings by developing methods which incorporate adaptability (so buildings can last longer), and optimisation (using as little material as possible) into the design of steel framed buildings.

Project Description

In a circular economy there is an aspiration that materials are kept at the highest value possible. For construction materials, the highest value is to retain buildings for as long as possible. To facilitate this, buildings need to be adaptable to changing needs over time. The structure is critical to this, as adaptability needs to be considered and designed in to maximise future possibilities, for example: future occupiers may have different demands on the space - in layout or use type, or desire a larger floor area on the same building footprint and thus wish to vertically extend. Failure to design these in could result in the early demolition of the building, and then replacement, resulting in considerably higher environmental impacts. It can thus be argued that a level of adaptability should be incorporated into building, and particularly structural design in order to maximise the potential lifespan.


However, to minimise environmental impacts there is another school of thought that suggests that structural designs should be optimised, using as little material as possible for their intended use. There is clearly a trade-off that needs to be struck between these two strategies. It is this trade-off or balance in initial and whole life material usage, and environmental impact that this PhD will explore; focusing on steel frames, which are well suited to adaptability, eventual deconstruction, and reuse. The material demand, and environmental impact of different adaptable strategies will be investigated, exploring the most efficient use of materials to deliver these strategies, and comparing them to typical material use in equivalent non-adaptable structures. The potential scale of deployment, and scenarios for the long term reduction of material demand due to adaptable, long-life buildings will be modelled for UK construction. Wider consideration of adaptable building design to support this approach will also be considered, including floor decking and the potential of adaptable facades - to changing use and climate.

The successful applicant will join the successful and friendly Resources, Infrastructure Systems and built Environments group in the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering and will have the opportunity to work closely with sustainability/construction teams in Tata Steel.

The student will be a University of Sheffield Grantham scholar, with access to a programme of sustainability training designed to equip students with the skills to become policy advocates and sustainability leaders.

The Candidate

Suitable for candidates holding/anticipating award of Distinction/1st or High Merit/2.1 or equivalent masters level degree in a building engineering discipline.

The successful candidate would start in October 2021 or February 2022.

Next steps

Informal enquiries are welcome, please contact lead supervisor Dr Danielle Densley Tingley at [Email Address Removed]


Applications should include a CV and a succinct one-page research proposal within this proposed topic.


Funding Notes

The scholarship is available for home fee status students, providing 4 years funding via EPSRC CASE scheme, covering:
• UK tuition fees
• Maintenance stipend at an enhanced rate: from ~£21,000 per annum with annual increases to ~£23,000 in the final year
• Research training support grant
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