Engineering Comes Home is an innovative, EPSRC-funded research project that turns the traditional process of infrastructure design on its head.

Bottom-up infrastructure

The project starts with household needs and looks outward to design technologies and infrastructure. It puts people and their everyday needs and desires first. It acknowledges complex patterns of resource consumption in households, arising from interactions with socio-technical systems.

Objectives of the project

  • Demonstrate a new paradigm for infrastructure design starting from the home, looking out towards provision systems that meet household demands.

  • Integrate thinking about water, energy, food, waste and data at the domestic scale to support user-led innovation and co-design of technologies and infrastructure.

  • Test design methods to connect homes to communities, technologies and infrastructure. This can enhance positive interactions between data, water, energy, food and waste systems.


The co-design process was carried out in three half day workshops held in the estate’s community hall and involved 19 residents (15% of the total number of households). The process was run by the research team, supported by an external facilitator, videographer and the local Tenants and Residents Association.


Nexus Tokens

The tokens were printed with icons representing aspects of WEF systems, a toilet, a flower, a plug for example. Participants were invited to play with these tokens, and construct narratives attached to locations within the estate. Two examples are shown below.

Calculator App

The Calculator App allowed workshop participants to assess different design criteria for five scenarios:

  • Food
  • Food Waste
  • Wormery and Food Garden
  • Rainwater Collection
  • Food Sharing

The calculator allowed to adjust input parameters such as volume of food consumed, quantity of wormeries or rainwater tanks on rooftops. These changed ouput quantities in realtime, such as waste generated, compost available, water collected and CO2 generated.

A further version focusing on rainwater harvesting design criteria was also developed for the third workshop.

Workshop Video Documentation

Workshop 1 - Water, Energy and Food

Workshop 1 focused on eliciting values relevant to domestic WEF resource management on the estate and on generating ideas for interventions that might fit with these values and with the material configuration of the estate.

Workshop 2 - Feasibility

The team created a shortlist of existing technologie and systems that could fit into the estate and align with the values elicited during workshop 1. The five shortlisted systems brought into workshop 2 were wormeries, food growing, food sharing, rainwater harvesting, and waste compacting. For the workshop we prepared fact sheets for each of these systems and technologies. We also developed a bespoke LCA calculator that participants could use to gauge the fit of the technology to their community and their estate.

Workshop 3 - Rainwater Harvesting

Workshop 3 aimed to get residents’ feedback on the prototype and create a detailed design for rainwater harvesting on the estate. The research team created a bespoke rainwater harvesting module for the LCA calculator which let residents explore design details such as tank size, number and location, rooftop area to be used to catch rain, position of outflows and whether or not to pressurise and pump water.


The UCL project team comprises Dr Sarah Bell, Director of the Engineering Exchange; Dr Aiduan Borrion, Senior Research Associate in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering and Dr Charlotte Johnson, Research Associate in the Bartlett School of Environment, Energy and Resources. Project partners include Dr Kat Austen and iilab, and Dr Robert Comber, Lecturer in Computer Mediated Communication based at Open Lab, Newcastle University.

Engineering Comes Home

Engineering Comes Home piloted an innovative co-design process including physical and digital tools to support community participation in infrastructure decision making.

  • Keywords

  • Program: co-design, infrastructure, user experience, water, food, energy, waste, nexus
  • Tech: life cycle assessment, dynamic systems modeling
  • Tools: purescript, docker

Recent News about Engineering Comes Home

  • Social Media
  • 21 Apr 2017
  • infrastructure engineering, co-design, community, water, food, energy, waste, nexus, prototype

Deep dive into Rainwater Harvesting

In this video, filmed during the third Engineering Comes Home co-design workshop, participants explored in more depth implementation of the chosen idea: rainwater harvesting.

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London community using our prototype Nexus Calculator

  • by Jun Matsushita, 26 Nov 2016
  • Blog
  • infrastructure engineering, co-design, community, water, food, energy, waste, nexus, prototype

Today, in an Estate near London Bridge in the UK, a community of inhabitants from an estate used our prototype Nexus Calculator to discuss various design options for food sharing, food growing, collecting rainwater or composting on the estate. This is the second time our team meets this community, as part of the Engineering Comes Home project in partnership with University College London and Open Lab at Newcastle University we blogged about a few months ago.

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Engineering Comes Home to test new paradigms in infrastructure engineering

  • by Dr. Kat Austen, 06 Jan 2016
  • Blog
  • infrastructure engineering, co-design, community, water, food, energy, waste, nexus, prototype

Sustainability. Resilience. Scarcity. Climate change. When it comes to resources recently we’re worrying that they are going to run out, and about the impact of waste from their consumption.

At iilab we’ve been working on understanding the systems around water with our mapping of the UK water systems and contributions to the Ofwat Resilience Task and Finish Group last year, and with Open Droplet. These projects look at water from a systems and from an end-user standpoint, aiming to see water resources and wastewater in a holistic manner.

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Ten recommendations to make the water sector more resilient - open data and citizen stewardship

  • by Dr. Kat Austen, 01 Dec 2015
  • Blog
  • water resilience, open data, citizen stewardship

How do we make a difference to water resilience? Today’s report, published by Ofwat and compiled by the independent Water Resilience Task and Finish Group, contains ten UK-focussed recommendations for improving water resilience.

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Countdown 2030 - Citizen Science Challenges and Opportunities

  • by Dr. Kat Austen, 30 Nov 2015
  • Blog
  • citizen science, embodied cognition, social development theory, human-centered design

Citizen science is a pretty wonderful phenomenon that is changing the dynamics of knowledge generation in the same way that open access is changing the dynamics of knowledge ownership. So how can we make it even better?

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