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Nottingham students design our off-the-grid future

Nottingham students design our off-the-grid future

Acres Architects is collaborating with the University of Nottingham to determine how humans can best combine with nature to create fully sustainable communities in a post-pandemic world.

Almost 50 first and second year undergraduates on the University of Nottingham’s architecture and environmental engineering courses have been tasked to come up with ideas for how future generations can live and work in net-zero or carbon positive habitats.

The four-week programme, which will form part of the students’ degree coursework, is based on a premise that our cities are becoming so overcrowded that we need to find ways to live and work in more extreme and remote natural environments.

The students have been asked to use the 121-acre Grade II-listed Highfields Park, in Nottingham, as a model environment on which to base their proposals.

Acres Architects, a division of Nottingham-based Acres Group, put forward the project, where eight groups of students will be competing for prizes to show their best ideas at a final presentation on March 22.

This is the first time that the university has invited both architects and engineering students to collaborate at the concept stage of such a potentially ground-breaking project. 

The theory is that it will encourage feasible working solutions to be agreed at the outset and generate evidence-based data that can potentially be used to convince local authority planners to make the ideas a reality.  

Guillermo Guzman Dumont, assistant professor in Nottingham University’s Department of Architecture and Built Environment, is overseeing the students’ work.

He said:

“Acres Architects and the university are united in the belief that the very first consideration of all future development should be self-sufficiency.

“We’re certainly aiming for net-zero, but hopefully carbon positive communities, where even waste products like sewage are harvested to create energy and make them effectively off-the grid.

“We must therefore modify the culture and DNA of our future architects and engineers to ensure this happens, which is why we’ve launched this competition for our younger students. 

“But we’re not talking about science fiction here – this is informed speculation of the near future, supported by science, data and inspiration. As the post-pandemic revival begins, it is clear we will not be living in the way we have been in 20 years’ time.”

Guillermo said that, traditionally, architects would imagine such proposals at concept stage and suggest sometimes outlandish ideas that may be based more on aesthetics than economic and technical feasibility.

“By encouraging this multi-disciplined collaboration with engineers, we are introducing properly considered data,” he said. “And data is the enabler of a more viable proposal.”  

Representatives from Acres Group will be available to guide the students through the process before helping to judge their work and select three winning proposals.   

Founder and managing director Edward Acres said:

“The current energy crisis, climate change and food supply issues have shown us that the race to create more sustainable ways of living is now critical.

“With home working becoming a new norm, combined with our need to commute less and the urgent need to produce energy from non-traditional sources, we all need to change the way we think and live.

“By supporting our future architects and engineers, and encouraging them to collaborate for the greater good, we hope to generate ideas that can inspire governments, local authorities and developers.”   

The expanding Acres Group, based at offices in University Park, Nottingham, offers a linear suite of services from design concept right through to building completion.

The group consists of several divisions including Acres Architects, Acres Construction, Acres Interiors, Acres Developments and Online Media Video Productions (OMVP). 

To find out more about the Acres Group, please visit, email or phone 0115 838 9738. 


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