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The University of Southampton

Southampton students build for their futures at Constructionarium

Published: 29 October 2020
Students at Construcionarium
The Gherkin takes shape, thanks to Southampton's Civil Engineering students at Constructionarium.

Civil Engineering students from the University of Southampton have successfully returned to the Constructionarium in Norfolk – the first group to do so since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The 18-acre site at Bircham Newton provides a unique learning experience for students and employees of the built environment sector to build their own scaled replicas of iconic structures from around the world in ‘real world’ conditions. The activities have been a key part of all of Southampton’s Civil Engineering degrees for more than a decade although this year’s visit for first-year students was delayed from May until October.

Some 60 Southampton students undertook three experimental learning projects, with each group building their own versions of either the Millau Cable Bridge (the original is in Southern France), the Brewery Wharf Footbridge (which spans the Leeds Liverpool Canal in Yorkshire) or London’s famous Gherkin building.  

Students arrived in project ‘bubbles’ and continued to work and live within these during their time at Constructionarium.  After completing a detailed symptom questionnaire, their temperature was checked each time they entered the site.  A colour-coded system enabled them to work safely within their bubbles, ensuring regular handwashing, face coverings and social distancing.

When inside their designated cabins, windows and doors were opened for maximum air circulation with regular cleaning and sanitising taking place.  Constructionarium staff are also identified as specialist educational staff enabling access to keyworker swab testing if required.

“We are really pleased we have been able to run this field course safely for the students who were unable to go in May,” said Professor Anna Barney, Deputy Head of School (Education) in the School  of Engineering. “It’s a critical part of their Civil Engineering education and an activity we know students regard as a highlight of their programme.”

Southampton’s Head of Engineering and the module co-ordinator, Professor David Richards, added: “For some this is life-changing. They didn’t really know what they wanted to do before they arrived on site and this absolutely confirms to them that civil engineering is what they want to do so it’s a really fabulous experience.”

Amongst the students participating this year were Katie McPeak and Beth Chadwick who both thoroughly enjoyed their time at Constructionarium.

“Obviously you learn everything in the lectures but seeing it all come together and do it in real life is really good,” Katie enthused. “It’s like a big learning curve – we’ve learned so much with all of the surveying, using the right instruments on a real construction site. An experience like this was really fun and having done everything practically, I’m very certain that this is what I’ll want to be doing throughout my career.”

Beth, who served as a Project Manager, said, “I’ve learned so many things this week that I didn’t learn in a month of classroom time so coming here and actually building something like this shows what it really takes to be an engineer.”

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The Constructionarium has been a key part of Southampton's BEng in Civil Engineering for over 10 years now.
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For many students, Constructionariu is a life-changing experience.
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Some 60 Southampton students undertook three experimental learning projects, with each group building their own versions iconic structures including London’s famous Gherkin building.
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