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Personal profile


Dr Alan M Forster is a research active Associate Professor in construction technology, low carbon materials and building conservation and is the Programme director for the PGDip / MSc in Building Conservation (Technology & Management) at Heriot Watt Univeristy, Edinburgh. He has over 14 years experience of academic practice and 10 years industrial experience in the construction sector, latterly specialising in building conservation.


Alan undertakes research and consultancy activities within the School of the Built Environment's Royal Academy of Engineering Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Design; Investigating low carbon building materials, environmentally sustainable and traditional construction; building pathology and deterioration; the impact of climate change on existing buildings and building resilience; ‘green’ maintenance; HBIM; building conservation philosophy; and construction education. The relationship between environment, building performance, materials, longevity and durability forms a common thread through his work. Understanding the inter-relationship of these associated factors is imperative for long term sustainable performance, and avoidance of premature failure. Previous work establishes theoretical research that informs construction and engineering practice to better understand performance of these technologies and suitability of use. Repair and maintenance of existing buildings and infrastructure is essential for the wider economy, and has a direct economic value. The retention of the embodied energy within the fabric of these structures relates directly to the longevity of the materials and construction technologies employed.


Alan has attained (PI & CI) research grants from: Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Technology Strategy Board (TSB), Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), and the British Council, cummulatively totalling £760K. He has approximately 70 published works, principally in international, peer-reviewed journals and conferences. He was awarded the ‘outstanding journal paper’ awards for 2009 & 2011 from Emerald Literati Network for the Journal of Building Pathology & Adaptation. His research was returned in the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014) in a joint submission with the University of Edinburgh for unit of assessment ‘Architecture, Built Environment & Planning’.


During the summer of 2011 he was awarded the Sir Edmund Happold Senior Visiting Research Fellowship within the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering (ACE): Innovative Construction Materials Research Group, University of Bath. This was a competitively Awarded Grant – Co sponsored by ACE and the Happold Trust (£2000) The purpose of the Research Fellowship was to enable the development of collaborative research on a fundamental level leading to a long term relationship between institutions. The fellowship invited established academics and senior professionals working in a field relevant to any of the Department's research interests. In addition, Alan was awarded the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) Bilateral Exchange Programme grant (Visiting Research Fellow) to undertake collaborative research in the Academy of Science for the Czech Republic, 2014.


Professionally, Alan is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building (FCIOB), a Fellow of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (FCABE), a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), a full member of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC), and an elected member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) (Scotland) Building Surveying Professional Group & a former committee member for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in Scotland. Additionally, he a member of the Editorial Advisory Group for the RICS Building Surveying / Building Conservation Journal and is a member of the Editorial advisory board for Structural Survey: Journal of Building Pathology & Refurbishment.


Alan has been delivering teaching and learning in building conservation, construction technology, multi-disciplinary design projects and surveying oriented subjects. He was awarded the 2010 Graduates Teaching Prize for lecturer of the year, the 2010 ‘Spirit of Heriot-Watt University’ award for Pursing Excellence and nominated for the 2011 & 2015 Teaching and Learning Oscars, ‘Switched on’ - most engaging lecturer award.


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 conservation practice, leading the production of several award winning academic journal papers investigating building conservation philosophy.


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.


Alan is a peer reviewer for the Journal of Architectural Conservation, Building Research & Information (BR&I), Engineering, Construction & Architectural Management (ECAM), Heritage Science, Association of Preservation Technology (APT), Structural Survey: Journal of Building Pathology, and Materials & Structures. Additionally, he has written articles for the RICS Building Surveying Journal and SPAB on the subject of specification and performance of traditional and low carbon materials. He has sucessfully supervised to completion two PhD students in the broad areas of low carbon materials and historic building fabric repair. He is currently first supervisor to 2 PhD student and second supervisor to an additional 2. In addition to his PhD supervision he has extensive experience as a PhD external examiner.


Administrative duties include; programme leader for MSc in Building Conservation (Technology & Management), first year undergraduate student co-ordinator and former (2009-2012) Construction Management & Surveying Programmes undergraduate admissions officer. Alan was appointed as external programme examiner for the MSc in Built Environment Courses & MSc Conservation of Buildings, Faculty of Science & Technology, Anglia Ruskin University (2012- Present) & more recently, the BSc (Hons) Construction Management, Northumbria University, Newcastle (2015-Present).


Academic Biography

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)


Research interests

1. Low carbon materials

2. Impact of climate change on traditional buildings

3. Construction technology & design

4. Sustainable construction and green materials

5. Green building maintenance

6. Conservative repair of traditional structures

7. Building pathology, inspection & objectivity in evaluation

8. Building conservation philosophy & historic graffiti

9. HBIM 

10. Construction education


Funded Research Projects


Grants awarded as Principle investigator (PI) include: Engineering & Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC), Technology Strategy Board [TSB (KTp)], & Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE).

Cumulative research grant funding totalling £760K (FEC)

1. Historic Digital Survey II – Project extension: Digital Data Acquisition & Processing for Historic Building Fabric Condition Survey; Interpretation, Machine learning & Scan to BIM.

  • Funder: Historic Environment Scotland;
  • Award Value: £40,840 (FEC);
  • Duration: 4Months starting January 2018,
  • Position CI (10%);
  • Context: Development of algorithms for HBIM applications

2. Historic Digital Survey II: Digital Data Acquisition & Processing for Historic Building Fabric Condition Survey & Interpretation

  • Funder: Historic Environment Scotland
  • Duration: 6Months, starting January 2017
  • Award Value: £82,500.00
  • Position CI (10%)
  • Context: Pilot study of drone based building fabric assessment

3. 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

  • Funder: British Council
  • Duration: April 2016 (4 days)
  • Award Value: Circa £3,500.00
  • Position PI (100%)
  • Context: Competitively awarded workshop participant 

4. Researcher Links Programme "Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure for Economic Development" Research network & workshops, Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand

  • Funder: British Council
  • Duration: January 2015 (1 week)
  • Award Value: £48,000.00
  • Position CI (50%)
  • Context: Invited work shop facilitator & chair

5. Investigating Stereo-Vision based Videogrammetry for Cultural Heritage Building Fabric Condition Survey

  • Funder: Historic Scotland
  • Duration: 6Months, starting February 2015
  • Award Value: £80,000.00
  • Position CI (30%)
  • Context: Pilot study of drone based building fabric assessment

6. Low carbon materials in the historic built environment

  • Funder: Historic Scotland - PhD scholarship grant
  • Duration: 3Years, starting January 2015
  • Award Value: £22,500.00 + £21,000 (3yr fee waiver)
  • Position PI: (100%)
  • Context: Funded PhD student 

7. Reverse engineering historic limes: Provenance, production and performance – ‘Closing the knowledge gap

  • Funder: Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE)
  • Duration: 1 month, March 2014
  • Award Value: £8,600.00
  • Position PI: (100%)
  • Context: Bilateral exchange programme (Visiting Research Fellowship) awarded in collaboration with the Academy of Sciences for the Czech Republic. This work was undertaken within the Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, Centre of Excellencefor Advanced Research Centre for Cultural Heritage Interdisciplinary Projects. The Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic is the leading non-university public research institution in the Czech Republic. This grant enabled the development of meaningful collaborative research in the area of low carbon materials in the Built Environment.

8.   Lime-Quest Project: ”Technical and environmental performance framework for regionally sourced lime mortars: A comparative analysis method”

  • Funder: Technology Strategy Board (TSB) – Knowledge Transfer
  • Duration: 18 months, 2013-14
  • Award Value: £135,000.00
  • Position PI: (100%)
  • Context: Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) collaborative project with Historic Scotland & Heriot-Watt University. The research developed a specification framework for use of regional lime mortars in conservation through determination of performance characteristics and bench-marking the potential for carbon/energy reduction.

9.  Performance of sustainable / low energy alternative binders exposed to rapid dehydration – hydration conditions

  • Funder: SBE Early Career Researcher Doctoral studentship grant
  • Duration: 3 years, 2011-14
  • Award Value: £21,000.00 (3yr International Fee Wavier)
  • Position PI: (100%)
  • Context: The Funded by the HWU, Royal Academy of Engineering’s Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design.

10.   Sir Edmund Happold Senior Visiting Research Fellowship, University of Bath

  • Funder: Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering (ACE): Innovative Construction Materials Research Group -Competitively Awarded Grant – Co sponsored by ACE and the Happold Trust
  • Duration: 3 Months, July – Sept 2011
  • Award Value: £2,000.00
  • Position PI: (100%)
  • Context: The purpose of the Research Fellowship was to enable the development of collaborative research on a fundamental level leading to a long term relationship between institutions. The fellowship invited established academics working in a field relevant to any of the Department's research interests.

11.   The use of earth as a contemporary construction material in Scotland

  • Funder: Collaborative ‘Kick Start’ Funding: Creativity and innovation:University of Edinburgh, School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture & Heriot-Watt University, School of the Built Environment
  • Duration: 3 Months, Nov 2011
  • Award Value: £2,000.00
  • Position PI: (50%)
  • Context: Collaborative research funding enabling a student led exploration of earth finish, texture and colour.

12.   Conduction calorimetry consultancy - on alternative binders

  • Funder: University College London (UCL)
  • Duration: 3 Months, Sept 2011
  • Award Value: £3,000.00
  • Position PI: (100%)
  • Context: Calorimetry testing upon innovative cement blends.

13.   An assessment of binder leaching in traditional mortars for mass masonry

  • Funder: Engineering & Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC)EP/ G064865/1.
  • Duration: 3 years, 2009-12
  • Award Value: £150,000.00
  • Position PI: (100%)
  • Context: The research investigated the impact of climate change on traditionally built masonry structures and more specifically, established the rate of soluble binder leaching in various lime mortar types commonly used in their construction. The work investigated the effect on the mechanical properties of the mortar and changes to the macro and micro pore structure, evaluating its influence on moisture transfer mechanisms.

 14. National Progression Awards Consultancy

  • Funder: Historic Scotland
  • Duration: 2 Months, Sept 2009
  • Award Value: £5,000.00
  • Position PI: (100%)
  • Context: Wrote the national training package for the newly proposed National Progression Awards (SVQ) in conservation masonry, focusing on the impact of environment and building detailing on the specification of materials (on behalf of Historic Scotland).

 15. Cob Wall response to flooding

  • Funder: Funded by the Centre for the Built Environment [CEBE]
  • Duration: 6 Months, Nov 2008
  • Award Value: £5,000.00
  • Position CI: (50%)
  • Context: A preliminary laboratory based assessment of the performance of ‘Cob’ to increased incidence of flooding associated with climate change.


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 as primary supervisor:

  • Kayan, B ‘Green maintenance for historic masonry buildings: a life cycle approach’ (Awarded 2013)
  • Razali, N ‘Natural Hydraulic Lime Mortars for Use in High Temperature, High Humidity Climatic Conditions: Effect of Calcitic Fillers’ (Awarded 2014) [Competitively awarded funded £40K]

Completed PhD supervision as second supervisor:

  • Ingram, V ‘Energy performance of traditionally constructed Scottish stone dwellings’ (Awarded 2013)

Current PhD supervision as primary supervisor:

  • Masson, L ‘Aggregate in historic mortars’ (Ex 2017)

Current PhD supervision as 2nd supervisor:

  • Spencer, H ‘Conservation of glass’ (Ex 2017)
  • Fipps, C ‘Conservation of glass – a non-destructive approach’ (Ex 2017)

External PhD examination:

  • Skelton I.R for the thesis entitled ‘Tall Buildings - Innovation in Construction’ School of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University (2014)
  • Akande, O. ‘Energy Management in Designated Heritage Assets’ Faculty of Science & Technology, Anglia Ruskin University, England (2015)

  • Ampatzioglou, E. 'Investigating Natural Pozzolans and their use with Lime Based Conservation Mortars' University of Lincoln, England (2015)
  • Hippisley-Cox, C. 'Towards a System of Understanding for the Traditional Granaries of Northern Portugal based in the Vicinity of Lindoso, Alto Minho' University of Huddersfield, England - MPhil PhD transfer (2016)
  • Arnott, C. 'The origin, Development, Purpose and Properties of galleting, Theory & Practices' Anglia Ruskin University, England (2017)
  • 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)
  • Hermo, J O ‘Lime based nanomaterials for the conservation of calcareous substrates in heritage structures’ Sheffield Hallam University (2018)

Internal PhD examination:

  • Kanon, H. 'Flexible housing - UK & Turkey' (2017)
  • Zawawi, R. ‘The effect of burning conditions on the properties of hydraulic lime mortar obtained by calcining limestone and siliceous waste materials’ (2010)
  • Lennie, L.A. ‘The conservation of historic shop fronts in Perth and Perthshire’ (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.  


Fingerprint Dive into the research topics where Alan Mark Forster is active. These topic labels come from the works of this person. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • 1 Similar Profiles
masonry Earth & Environmental Sciences
mortar Earth & Environmental Sciences
repair Earth & Environmental Sciences
lime Earth & Environmental Sciences
Repair Engineering & Materials Science
Binders Engineering & Materials Science
graffiti Social Sciences
Mortar Engineering & Materials Science

Co Author Network Recent external collaboration on country level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots.

Research Output 1999 2019

Automated defect detection and classification in ashlar masonry walls using machine learning

Valero, E., Forster, A., Bosché, F., Hyslop, E., Wilson, L. & Turmel, A., Oct 2019, In : Automation in Construction. 106, 102846.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Learning systems
Learning algorithms

The changing face of conservation

Forster, A. M., Bosché, F. N. & Valero, E., Feb 2019, Built Environment Journal, p. 52-53 2 p.

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationFeatured article

Open Access

The Influence of Calcitic Filler in Hydraulic Lime Mortars for Use in High Temperature and High Humidity Climatic Conditions: A Preliminary Investigation

Forster, A. M., 2019, Historic Mortars: Advances in Research and Practical Conservation. Hughes, J., Válek, J. & Groot, C. (eds.).

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)

Automatic Segmentation of 3D Point Clouds of Rubble Masonry Walls, and its Application to Building Surveying, Repair and Maintenance

Valero, E., Bosché, F. & Forster, A., Dec 2018, In : Automation in Construction. 96, p. 29-39 11 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
repair and maintenance
Open Access
waste glass
X-ray fluorescence


Learning systems

Best Paper Award at the 2018 International Symposium for Automation and Robotics in Construction (ISARC)

Frédéric Bosché (Recipient), Enrique Valero (Recipient) & Alan Mark Forster (Recipient), 2018

Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)

Edinburgh builders student prize

Alan Mark Forster (Recipient), 1994

Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)

Activities 2002 2019

PhD External Examiner - University of Bath

Alan Mark Forster (Examiner)
4 Oct 2019

Activity: ExaminationExternal Examiner

Studies in Higher Education (Journal)

Alan Mark Forster (Editorial board member)
9 May 2019

Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workPublication peer-review

RICS Building Conservation Journal (Journal)

Alan Mark Forster (Editorial board member)
18 Mar 2019

Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workEditorial activity

Press / Media

Pioneering automation in digital surveys

Frédéric Bosché, Alan Mark Forster & Enrique Valero


1 item of Media coverage

Press/Media: Research

Digital Technology Helps Cultural Heritage Manage the impact o f Climate Change

Frédéric Bosché, Alan Mark Forster, Enrique Valero, Lyn Wilson, Alick Leslie & Ewan Hyslop


1 Media contribution

Press/Media: Research