Research output per year
Research output per year
Dr, Associate Professor, Associate Professor
Research activity per year
I am a university Associate Professor and programme leader for MSc in Building Conservation (Technology & Management) with 10 years industrial experience in general construction, building surveying, and building conservation practice.
Research: My research activities are undertaken within the Royal Academy of Engineering Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design; Investigating traditional & low carbon building materials & architectural technologies; Building pathology, fabric repair & maintenance; Survey & evaluation of buildings; Building resilience to climate change; Heritage Building Information Modelling; Building conservation philosophy; and Construction & engineering education. My research was returned in a joint submission with the University of Edinburgh for Unit of Assessment (UoA) ‘Architecture, Built Environment & Planning’ for RAE 2008, and REF 2014 & 2021. I have attained cumulative research grant funding as PI & CI across 23 projects, totalling £1.14M [FEC] from major funding councils including, EPSRC, AHRC, TSB, RSE, RAE & British Council. Dissemination of these projects and my broader research portfolio has led to 80 published outputs, five of which were recipient of outstanding and highly commended journal paper awards. I have an h-index of 16 and an i-10 index of 30. In addition, I was awarded the Sir Edmund Happold Senior Visiting Research Fellowship at the University of Bath in 2011, and the Royal Society of Edinburgh visiting Research Fellowship in 2014 in collaboration with the Academy of Sciences for the Czech Republic.
Doctoral Student Supervision: I have successfully supervised six PhD students in the broad areas of low carbon materials, historic building fabric repair and maintenance. I am currently first supervisor to one PhD student (in Digital technologies) and second supervisor to one other (in low carbon materials and design). In addition to my PhD supervision, I have extensive experience as a PhD external examiner.
Teaching & Learning: I have been delivering high quality teaching and learning in building conservation, architectural tectonics/construction technology, multi-disciplinary design projects and building surveying oriented subjects. I was awarded the 2010 Graduates Teaching Prize for lecturer of the year, the 2010 ‘Spirit of Heriot-Watt University’ award for Pursing Excellence and shortlisted for the 2011 & 2015 Teaching and Learning Oscars, ‘Switched on’ - most engaging lecturer award. I have written many journal papers and articles relating to construction and engineering education and specifically the connectivity between academic industrial experience (pracademics), experiential learning, and professional identity formation.
Significant Administration Roles: In addition to my MSc programme leader role my current administrative duties include; 4th year undergraduate student co-ordinator (2021 – Present), undergraduate (UG) dissertations coordinator (2018 – Present), health & safety officer for the materials laboratory. Former Construction Management & Surveying Programmes administrative roles have included admissions tutor (2009-2012), Postgraduate (PG) dissertation coordinator (2018 – 2021), and 1st year undergraduate student co-ordinator (2015 – 2021). In addition, I am completing my second term as a Heriot Watt Senator (Oct 2015 – Present).
Professional engagement & Citizenship: Professionally, I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA); a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Builders (FCIOB); a Fellow of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (FCABE); a full member of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) and an associate member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Additionally, I am a former elected member of the RICS Building Surveying Professional group (Scotland); a member of the Editorial Advisory Group for the RICS Building Conservation Journal; a member of the IHBC technical committee; and a member of the Editorial advisory board for the Journal of Building Pathology & Adaptation. Additional awards include the attainment of the prestigious travelling Lethaby Scholarship (2001) awarded by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) gave invaluable and unique, practical experience. This ultimately stimulated a long-term interest in building conservation. I have held several external programme examiner appointments, including the MSc in Built Environment Courses & MSc Conservation of Buildings, Anglia Ruskin University (2012–2017); and BSc (Hons) in Construction Project Management, Northumbria University (2015-2020).
Industrial experience: Practical experience of surveying, recording and evaluation of historic buildings was attained whilst working for the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) within the survey and recording section. Building surveying & site supervision of conservation projects was undertaken whilst working for Stirling Council, the Scottish Lime Centre and also Laing Traditional Masonry, with particular specialism in masonry fabric repair and internal and external lime works. Additional site experience relates to six years working in the mechanical services sector.
2005- 2007 Post Graduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP) – Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA)
2001 – Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (S.P.A.B) Lethaby Scholar (winner of 1 of 4 funded scholarship places)
1997-2002 PhD / Doctor of Philosophy (Heriot-Watt University). Thesis entitled ‘An assessment of the relationship between the water vapour permeability and hydraulicity of lime based mortars with particular reference to building conservation materials science’
1993 - 1997 BSc (Hon) in Building Surveying (awarded first class) (Heriot-Watt University)
1991 - 1993 Ordinary National Diploma (OND) in Construction Studies (with Distinction)
1986 - 1990 City & Guilds Advanced Craft Certificate in Plumbing and Mechanical Services (winner of the JT Wilkinson Merit Shield and the JA Atkinson cup)
1. Low carbon design: materials & technologies
2. Resilience to climate change (Buildings & Communities)
3. Sustainable and traditional construction technologies, design & performance
4. Heritage Building Information Modelling (HBIM)
5. Green building maintenance & green supply chain
6. Conservative repair of traditional structures
7. Building pathology, inspection & objectivity in evaluation
8. Building conservation philosophy & historic graffiti
9. Construction & engineering pedagogy
Rationale & philosophies underpinning my research
Low carbon & traditional materials: design, specification & performance: The global imperative to reduce anthropogenic CO2 is omnipresent and the very real impact of climate change permeates almost all facets of modern society. Societally and professionally, we are entrusted with the design, construction and conservation of the built environment and the decisions we make will have meaningful ramifications moving forward. Within this context my research investigates ‘fabric first’ design supported by low carbon materials solutions that are at the heart of design, construction, operation, adaptation, conservation, and repair of buildings. Logically, a greater understanding of materials performance is required to create confidence in our design and conservative repair choices, ensuring that we do not cause additional detriment to our environment as we decarbonise and move forward. Supporting the design and delivery of ‘better’ low carbon buildings, my research has built capacity in the broad area of low carbon design that is internationally world leading in terms of its originality, significance, and rigour. I have interests in many aspects of low carbon materials and design, building conservation, and core building surveying activities.
Broader understanding of traditional materials and their context to local architectural environments are critical for the aesthetic pattern of architecture, built form and sense of place, but also their potential for supporting low carbon design and repair (low embodied energy, and reduction in ‘carbon miles’ etc). Previous fundamental research into low carbon traditional materials (lime, earth etc) is critical for understanding of their wider building performance. These materials and associated techniques are fundamental to the conservation and repair of the historic built environment but are also important in the contemporary architectural realm. Contextualising ‘resource efficiency’ and ‘green’ procurement, I have attained funding from TSB (Innovate UK) for my project entitled ‘Technical & environmental performance framework for regionally sourced lime mortars’ (£135K) and a RSE International Programme grant (£9K) (Academy of Science, Czech Republic) entitled ‘Reverse engineering historic limes: Provenance, production and performance’. Thesesought to better understand green procurement and carbon sequestration in low carbon materials.
I have a specific interest in earth construction with its low embodied energy, and lime-based materials seen as an alternative to cement with its ability to sequester CO2 during its set propagation. Lime binders and earth materials have been subject to increasing attention, along with novel plant based (organic fibre) low carbon materials such as ‘hemp lime composites’. This is particularly important considering that the cement industry contributes to 5% of global anthropogenic CO2 and radical sector change is urgently required. This transition will drive materials substitution and a presumption that ‘grown’ is better than ‘quarried and fired’ should be generally supported. Additionally, an important feature of many of our traditional and low carbon materials is their ability to create healthy living environments ostensibly through ‘breathability’ characteristics, moisture buffering and hygrothermal performance characteristics. Indeed, my PhD investigated ‘breathability’ in lime-based materials and resulted in a better understanding of breathable walling technologies and the adverse implications of moisture entrapment in building fabric. I believe that low carbon design and sustainable heritage are in many cases inherently intertwined and much can be learnt from better understanding of indigenous materials and evolved architectural technologies that support their successful use.
Extracting value from digital data for the conservation and repair of the historic built environment: Digital reality capture (laser scanning, photogrammetry and hyperspectral imagery) and information technologies are revolutionising the built environment. Within the context of existing building operational use, the omni-present need to cost effectively repair and maintain buildings is often considered as an unwelcomed after thought. Such necessary activities are hindered by poor initial survey reporting of fabric condition that is often subjective in nature. Attaining an objective ‘starting point’ for decision making for fabric repair intervention is critical for productivity especially when set within a narrative of financial austerity. Whilst laser scanning has been placed front and centre for recording and documentation, extracting value from point cloud data is in its infancy within the sector. Machine learning, artificial intelligence, and digital twins are important for rapid, cost effective and accurate repair and maintenance operations. Our previous projects entitled ‘Historic Digital Survey’ (£265K) had several phases investigating Stereo-Vision based Videogrammetry for Cultural Heritage Building Fabric Condition Survey Digital Data Acquisition & Processing for Historic Building Fabric Condition Survey; Interpretation, Machine learning & Scan to BIM. Current research in collaboration between myself, University of Edinburgh (Cyberbuild), and Historic Environment Scotland is making an important contribution in this area. We intend to continue collaborating, growing our fundamental research in these areas that facilitate the UK governments aspiration to grow digital technologies, and sustainability (net zero targets) research.
Innovation in low carbon architectural technologies:are moving at a significant pace and are an integral part of ‘fabric first’ carbon reduction strategies. Aspirations to build 200,000 homes in the UK yearly reflects demand for domestic housing and it is envisaged that much needed growth in ‘green’ materials and associated technologies is increasingly important to their delivery. Rapid design and construction of these homes raises concerns over a shortfall in expected performance especially given that it is well understood that every period of housing throughout history is associated with their own specific set of defects reflecting the materials and technology deployed. Our failure to ‘design out’ isolated building defects or potential wide ranging interconnected systems failure is reminiscent of post war housing boom in which architectural and materials innovation was widespread. Indeed, parallels can be made with today’s ‘green architectural technology shift’ and rapid deployment of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and the post war era. Fundamental questions regarding whether our current building pathology systems for the identification of pre-construction defects are sufficiently robust to obviate post construction latent defects should be posed? The investment of lower embodied carbon in the communication of the building fabric is undoubtedly welcomed but poorly conceived design and construction of innovative ‘green’ construction systems and disparate ‘green’ materials and technologies create potential for failure. Environmentally and economically, society cannot afford such failures and it is imperative that we enhance design protocols that reflect the challenges of designing with innovative materials and technologies. Failure to do so will result in premature deterioration of structures potentially rendering early onset on of economic and technical obsolescence and loss of utility and embodied carbon. My previously published collaborative research in this area with multi-disciplinary academic partners such as the BRE Centre for innovative construction materials, University of Bath; University of Edinburgh (ESALA & Cyberbuild); and Loughborough university (ABCE) have been exploring these critical interconnected socio technical issues.
Resilience to climate change (Building & communities): Increased understanding of building resilience to climate change and the wider implication for communities is urgently required. Building fabric response to climate change, such as materials and structures being wetter for longer and their associated deterioration mechanisms are imperative for our ability to confidently design and repair our existing built environment. Change in environmental conditions and exposure has meaningful implications for the performance and longevity of materials but also has ramifications for functional architectural design form through to building detailing. Climate change will force alteration in design and classical detailing to satisfy mitigation strategies seeking to sustain architectural life expectancies. In addition, whilst building maintenance and fabric repair uptake is generally poor, it is essential for sustainable and cost-effective building operation through its life cycle locking up ‘embodied carbon’. Previous initiatives have gained limited traction within the sector and in response a theoretical model was developed by myself and co-investigators entitled ‘green maintenance’, stimulating uptake for maintenance in ‘hard to treat’ historic buildings. I have developed a significant body of work within building resilience to climate change and more specifically, the implications of flood and increasing rainfall of traditional fabric. I have attained grant funding from EPSRC for my work entitled ‘An assessment of binder leaching in traditional mortars for mass masonry’ (£150K) and Centre for the Built Environment [CEBE] ‘Cob wall response to flooding’ (£5K).
Beyond structure and fabric, the interconnected, inherently complex forces of chronic stress acting upon communities drive adaptation post disruption. Community resilience is not solely financial or a question of resource inequality but is dependent upon ‘networks’ for social support, flexibility, organisation and access to expertise. The complexity of the issues confronting communities test their ‘adaptive capacities’ and these require multi-disciplinarity approaches to help mitigate and response to issues. I have attained previous grant funding from the Royal Academy of Engineering and the British Council investigating resilience and community resilience. My British Council grant entitled ‘Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure for Economic Development’ (£48K); was followed by a grant from RAE entitled ‘Urban Crisis resilience: ‘The Urban Opportunity for Building a Resilient Future’ (£1.5K) and most recently my Frontiers of Development ‘The educational opportunity for building a resilient future’ exploring challenges present by climate change globally (£18K). The Frontiers of Development project was a multi-disciplinary and truly global project with partners at Queensland University of Technology, Waikato University, University of Lagos; and Ice-cream architecture, Glasgow. The community resilience project focused upon the development of an open-source web based educational offering in ‘resilience’ that has experiential professional learning at its heart.
Professionally focused experiential education research: My formative years as a Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) Lethaby Scholar (an ‘Arts & Craft’ scholarship with linkages to Morris & Ruskin) led to an understanding of the educational importance of experiential learning. Creating connectivity between theory and practice is critical for deep learning, engagement, and student retention. My most recent funded project exploring ‘a pedagogical opportunity for community resilience education’ confirms the importance of scenario based, multi-disciplinary projects that contextualise ‘core’ practice skills and facilitate ‘critical thinking and problem-solving skills’. Importantly, excellence in teaching and learning is essential for the long-term external reputation of any programme, engendering communities of learning and practice. Research and teaching should not be in competition and professionally focused teaching and learning should be valued and seen as fertile ground for priming research opportunities and creates exciting opportunities for pedagogical research whilst additionally strengthening industry links.
Building Conservation Philosophy and technical fabric repair: I have published work that explores building conservation philosophy (BCP). The importance of BCP cannot be overemphasised and rather than being an esoteric collection of principles and tenets it underpins all technical fabric intervention decisions for historic buildings. Most recently my published work on Eastern and Western approaches to conservation and restoration explored the influence of the ‘opening up’ of Japan in the 19th C upon formative thoughts of ‘Ruskin’ and ‘Morris’ and the embryonic development of international conservation philosophies.
Funded Research Projects
Cumulative research grants funding as PI & CI totalling approximately, £1.14M [FEC] from major funding councils including, Engineering & Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC), Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Technology Strategy Board (TSB), British Council (BC), Global Challenges Research fund (GCRF), Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), and Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE).
Project title: 'Rejuvenation of the heritage science laboratory at Heriot Watt University'
Project title: ‘The educational opportunity for building a resilient future’ Frontiers of Development
Project title: Global Challenges Research Funding (GCRF) ‘promoting the utilisation of low carbon concrete through performance testing’
Project title: Global Challenges Research Fund workshop event: Urban Crisis resilience: ‘The Urban Opportunity for Building a Resilient Future’ Putrajaya Malaysia
Project title: Historic Digital Survey III: Digital Data Acquisition & Processing for Historic Building Fabric Condition Survey & Interpretation.
Project title: Historic Digital Survey II – Project extension: Digital Data Acquisition & Processing for Historic Building Fabric Condition Survey; Interpretation, Machine learning & Scan to BIM.
Project title: Historic Digital Survey II: Digital Data Acquisition & Processing for Historic Building Fabric Condition Survey & Interpretation
Project title: Researcher Links Programme "Building Information Modelling and Collaboration for Retrofit for Resilient Housing and Sustainability: Research, Practice and Support for Social Innovation" Research network & workshops, Istanbul, Turkey
Project title: Researcher Links Programme "Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure for Economic Development" Research network & workshops, Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand
Project title: Investigating Stereo-Vision based Videogrammetry for Cultural Heritage Building Fabric Condition Survey
Project title: Low carbon materials in the historic built environment
Project title: Reverse engineering historic limes: Provenance, production and performance – ‘Closing the knowledge gap
Project title: Lime-Quest Project: ”Technical and environmental performance framework for regionally sourced lime mortars: A comparative analysis method”
Project title: Performance of sustainable / low energy alternative binders exposed to rapid dehydration – hydration conditions
Project title: Sir Edmund Happold Senior Visiting Research Fellowship, University of Bath
Project title: The use of earth as a contemporary construction material in Scotland
Project title: Conduction calorimetry consultancy - on alternative binders
Project title: An assessment of binder leaching in traditional mortars for mass masonry
Project title: National Progression Awards Consultancy
Project title: Cob Wall response to flooding
Specialist advisory research input & networks:
(i) LIMES.NET: Network for Low Impact Materials and innovative Engineering Solutions for the built environment (Sept 2011):BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials, University of Bath
(ii) Engineering Historic Futures (EHF) impact of climate change on historic buildings (2003):Specialist advisor to Historic Scotland (stakeholder partner) and the Scottish Lime Centre trust for their input into the engineering historic futures project, specifically evaluating laboratory wall simulations of historic buildings, correlated to site based monitoring (National Trust properties: Brodick Castle and Blickling Hall). Engineering Historic Futures was a three-year project, run by University College London (UCL) (2003-2006), and funded by EPSRC as part of their climate-change research initiative "Building Knowledge for a Changing Climate", investigating issues arising from water damage to historic buildings.
(iii) Experimental Lime Kiln (ELK) (2003):Research into production of traditional complex mortars. Worked as part of the research team analysing small scale lime burning.
(iv) Foresight Lime Research Project (2002):Specialist advisor to Historic Scotland and the Scottish Lime Centre for the then proposed ‘best practice guide for hydraulic lime mortar for stone, brick and block’. Project funding by EPSRC / DTI with PI responsibility at Bristol University.Advisory role included the peer review of the aforementioned publication.
Completed PhD supervision:
Current PhD supervision:
Cullen, A ‘The unintended consequences of applying plastic EWI onto cavity walls’ Glasgow Caledonian University (viva date May 2021)
Johnson, S ‘Functional fires in historic buildings: Impact on environmental conditions and response of timber objects’ University of Cardiff (2021)
Arturo Cruz ‘Planning to Live Longer: Developing a Model for the Maintenance-focused Heritage Building Conservation’ Queensland University of Technology (2020)
Westgate, P ‘Lime-based construction materials: effects of novel additives on physical and chemical properties’ University of Bath (2019)
Fuscade, L M M ‘designing and evaluating repointing lime mortars for the conservation of historic buildings in highly exposed environments’ University of Oxford (2019)
Hermo, J O ‘Lime based nanomaterials for the conservation of calcareous substrates in heritage structures’ Sheffield Hallam University (2018)
Whitman, C. ‘Low Energy Retrofitting of Historic Timber-Framed Buildings in the UK’ University of Cardiff (2018)
Wilke, S. ‘Evaluation of Cements and Other Constituents in Historically-Significant Structures in Scotland’ University of Dundee (2018)
Abo Kanon, H. ‘Flexible housing – UK and Turkey’ Heriot Watt University (2017)
Arnott, C. ‘The Origin, Development, Purpose and Properties of Galleting, Theory and Practices’ Faculty of Science & Technology, Anglia Ruskin University, England (2017)
Hippisley-Cox, C. ‘Towards a system of understanding for the traditional granaries of Northern Portugal based on those in the vicinity of Lindoso, Alto Minho’ University of Huddersfield (2016) – MPhil - PhD transfer viva
Ampatzioglou, E. ‘Investigating Natural Pozzolans and their use with Lime-Based Conservation Mortars’ University of Lincoln, England (2015)
Akande, O. ‘Energy Management in Designated Heritage Assets’ Faculty of Science & Technology, Anglia Ruskin University, England (2015)
Skelton I.R for the thesis entitled ‘Tall Buildings - Innovation in Construction’ School of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University (2014)
Zawawi, R. ‘The effect of burning conditions on the properties of hydraulic lime mortar obtained by calcining limestone and siliceous waste materials’ Heriot Watt University (2010)
Lennie, L.A. ‘The conservation of historic shop fronts in Perth and Perthshire’ Heriot Watt University (2006)
Journal Editorial roles
Editorial Advisory Group member for the RICS Building Surveying/ Conservation Journal (2014- Present): The RICS building conservation journal is main professional publication for Building Surveyors. It is utilised as an integral component of CPD structured reading for the profession and forms an important role in the examination process of the Assessment of Professional Competency. Its content is topical and reflects the technical education requirements of the profession. The reader base is significant with 15,000 thousand Chartered Building Surveyors receiving this publication (both electronically and hardcopy) 6 times a year. I have published extensively in the journal on a range of topical issues and this enables effective dissemination of my high end research papers.
Editorial advisory board member for The Journal of Building Pathology Adaptation (2015- Present): The Journal of Building Pathology & Adaptation is arguably one of the most important journals relating to the Building surveying profession. Its content is topical and it is related specifically to the core competencies required by chartered building surveyors and architects. It publishes findings on contemporary and original research in building pathology and building forensics, refurbishment and adaptation. This includes all related areas towards supporting more sustainable and resilient futures. Particular emphasis is placed on the emerging environmental challenges associated with sustaining the modern built environment.
Grant & journal paper review: I am a peer reviewer for numerous international journals including; Building Research & Information (BR&I); Journal of Architectural Conservation; Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management (ECAM); Structural Survey: Journal of Building Pathology; Materials & Structure; Association Preservation Technology (APT); Intellect Publications; Heritage Science; WIREs Climate Change; Sustainable Cities and Society; Elsevier Science & Technology; Cities, International Journal of urban Policy & Planning; Construction & Building Materials; Palgrave Macmillian; Journal of Cultural Heritage; Journal of Cleaner Production; Studies in Higher Education. I have also undertaken grant proposal reviews for the following funding councils; British Council – Newton Fund / Newton Prize; European Commission – Cultural Heritage (FP7); Natural Environment Research Council (NERC); Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) R4D – Thematic grants; Carnegie Trust; Austrian Academy of Science, and the British Academy.
In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):
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Research output: Contribution to conference › Paper › peer-review
Research output: Contribution to specialist publication › Featured article
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review
Forster, Alan Mark (Recipient), Jun 2018
Prize: Election to learned society
Forster, Alan Mark (Recipient), 20 Jul 2018
Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)
Bosché, F. (Recipient), Valero, E. (Recipient) & Forster, Alan Mark (Recipient), 2018
Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)
Alan Mark Forster (Examiner)
Activity: Examination › External Examiner
Alan Mark Forster (Chair)
Activity: Membership › Membership of committee
Frédéric Bosché, Alan Mark Forster, Enrique Valero, Lyn Wilson, Alick Leslie & Ewan Hyslop
1 Media contribution