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Environmental impact of housing and infrastructure

Environmental impact of housing and infrastructure is a long-term concern that needs to be addressed holistically. Currently, civil engineering projects are primarily led by construction costs and the environmental impact is rarely considered as a deciding factor. Low-cost construction however often results in low-quality with high maintenance costs and large environmental impact during the life of the structure.

The project looks at the environmental impact of stone in comparison with other construction materials (concrete, steel, timber, brick) over the life of the structure (material production, construction, use, service life, maintenance, recycling/reuse of materials). There is extensive literature on the environmental impact of modern construction materials but limited data on stone houses and structures. Environmental impact will also be linked to life expectancy that varies significantly for the different materials. For example, steel-frame buildings may be designed for 100-200 years while stone buildings for several hundred or thousands of years.

Stone is not used for new construction at the present. Stone structures have however proved to be the most sustainable, resilient and long-lasting throughout the history. While their construction costs may be somewhat higher (ca. 30-50% higher), their maintenance costs and environmental impact are around 60% lower than other construction types. Stone structures also retain their economic value far better than other materials and create additional value for the locality, making them economically viable alternatives.

The project is part of a wider scheme of reintroducing stone into new construction. By combining digital technology with the well-established benefits of masonry construction (sustainability, resilience, low life-cycle costs) 'Digital Stone' will offer the most advanced and sustainable alternative for new housing and infrastructure.

How to apply

If you are interested in applying for the above PhD topic please follow the steps below:

  1. Contact the supervisor by email or phone to discuss your interest and find out if you woold be suitable. Supervisor details can be found on this topic page. The supervisor will guide you in developing the topic-specific research proposal, which will form part of your application.
  2. Click on the 'Apply here' button on this page and you will be taken to the relevant PhD course page, where you can apply using an online application.
  3. Complete the online application indicating your selected supervisor and include the research proposal for the topic you have selected.

Good luck!

This is a self funded topic

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: https://www.brunel.ac.uk/research/Research-degrees/Research-degree-funding. The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.

Meet the Supervisor(s)



Katherine Cashell - Katherine Cashell is a Senior Lecturer in Structural Engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Brunel University. Dr Cashell is a Chartered Engineer (CEng), a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers (FICE) and a Member of the Institution of Structural Engineers (MIStructE) and Engineers Ireland (MIEI). She is engaged in teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate level and research in steel and composite structures. Her principal research interests lie in the area of structural testing, numerical modelling and the development of efficient design guidance for steel and composite structures. In particular, she has developed an expertise in the analysis of structural response during extreme loading conditions, such as a fire.  She is also actively engaged in researching the use of novel materials such as stainless steel and high strength steel in building structures. Dr Cashell is actively involved in the Institution of Structural Engineers, and is currently serving as a member of the Council.  She is the past Chair of the Great Britain region of Engineers Ireland.

Academic/Professional Career

  • Senior structural engineer at the Steel Construction Institute (SCI), Ascot, UK. August 2010 – August 2012.
  • Structural engineer at High Point Rendel (HPR), London, UK. October 2009-August 2010.
  • Research Assistant at Imperial College London, UK. January 2006-January 2009.

Academic/Professional Qualifications

  • PhD in Advanced Structural Engineering, Imperial College London, University of London, 2009
  • Diploma of Imperial College (DIC), 2009
  • MEngSc (Research) in Civil Engineering, University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland, 2006
  • BEng (Hons) in Civil and Environmental Engineering, First Class, University College Cork (UCC), Ireland, 2004
  • Chartered Engineer (CEng)
  • Council member of the Institution of Structural Engineers (2020-date)
  • Member of the Institution of Structural Engineers (MIStructE)
  • Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers (FICE)
  • Member of Engineers Ireland (MIEI)
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA)