Department of Architecture & Design at Plymouth University

In 2015, the Bioregional Learning Centre collaborated with the Department of Architecture and Design at Plymouth University to create a trans-disciplinary module. We provided BA Hons 2nd Year 3-D design students with an opportunity to work bioregionally and operate across social, environmental and technological design practices.

To quote design theorist John Thackara, “A bioregion re-connects us with living systems, and each other, through the places where we live. It acknowledges that we live among watersheds, foodsheds, energysheds, fibersheds, and food systems—not just in cities, towns, or ‘the countryside’.”

Three interdisciplinary groups (product designers, designer makers, spatial & interior designers) explored design opportunities in relation to either a “Bioregional Learning Centre” that could be sited at Dartington Hall and/or the Sharpham Estate, “Journeys to Sharpham” or “Energy in the Dart Valley” focusing on hydropower at Totnes Weir.

Community Energy app

Deliverables were open-ended; products, services, artefacts, objects, experiences, places or spaces. Our role as visiting lecturers was to provide real-world context through field trips and to review their designs. We asked the students to ground their work in real needs, asking them to take into account the influence they might have on people’s lives and the ecology of the places they visited.

The students produced a wide range of solutions; architectural, sculptural, engineered, technological. A few stood out:

  • An app by Mikey and Aidan (Maidan Design) for Totnes Renewable Energy Society that would provide live performance data on their solar and hydro projects, and background information on renewable energy, the bioregion, wildlife and community events.  The app also had the capacity to link in to individual homeowner’s electricity usage, comparing it to others in the community.
  • Differentiated electricity usage (grid vs local, renewable)

    A product and architectural solution by Connor and Kaysee for an energy storage system that utilises graphene, a single, tightly packed layer of carbon atoms that are bonded together in a hexagonal honeycomb lattice.


We were excited to see one imaginative, integrated and iconic solution, which would see electricity generated by the turbines on Totnes Weir stored in below-ground graphene towers housed in an unobtrusive architectural form designed for public access. Storage of micro-generated energy is becoming an obstacle to its generation here in South Devon.