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Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment

A part-time Master's course from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

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Blog: The IDBE Master's: Instilling a confidence for my future

last modified May 14, 2018 11:26 AM
Gary Cass, Regional Operations Manager for Aedis Regulatory Services Ltd explains how studying the CISL’s Master of Studies in Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment (IDBE) has catalysed his career.

Studying the IDBE has been instrumental to my recent career progression. The skills and knowledge I developed on the course gave me the confidence to apply for my new role and having the qualification gave me a head start in the selection process.

Looking back to 2014, before I’d even considered studying at CISL, I was involved with carrying out research for Local Authority Building Control (LABC) and the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) on the unintended consequences of retrofit of pre-1919 dwellings. The vast majority of our housing stock was built prior to the incarnation of our current building regulations. Part of my remit was to look at adaptation of this existing built environment.

That particular piece of research was passed to the director of the IDBE course who got in touch and suggested that I may be interested in joining up. The interdisciplinary element appealed most as it made sense that we should be bringing our individual disciplines together across the industry to explore ways to make it more sustainable.

Valuable cohort experiences

On the course, I was inspired by some of the fantastic, world-class lecturers, but I found the fundamental course structure - and sharing knowledge with my diverse classmates was what truly enhanced my learning experience.

I considered myself to be a humble building control surveyor, suddenly thrown into the company of engineers, architects and an array of players from the construction industry. I was used to examining work issues through my own particular, narrow, lens but now I was able to see things from a range of other people’s perspectives, which I found fascinating. It did feel strange to be amongst all these people who had worked on amazing projects and I must admit that I felt intimidated by some of the cohort’s achievements.

My research centred on the extent to which building regulations addressed mental health in housing - sound was the catalyst for this investigation but wasn’t the entire focus. The health and safety requirements of the building regulations look at structure and fire safety (amongst others) but the requirements for sound aren’t covered under this remit. It made sense to me that sound, alongside other building regulations factors, can affect mental health so I carried that through as my personal research project.

A supportive tutor and new discoveries

The tutor for the thesis was very supportive and gave me ideas to follow up and suggested literature to read. An unintended consequence of this research was that, I discovered, if you get energy efficiency and the sustainability element right, removing volatile organic compounds that can exacerbate respiratory conditions through ventilation, you’ve got an environment that’s not only better for the health of the occupants but in a symbiotic way it also benefits the environment.

This was a clear finding I took from my interviews with industry leaders and from attending an ‘All Party Parliamentary Group’ on health and homes. I interviewed industry thought leaders as part of the process. One was Norman Lamb MP, previously a health minister under the coalition government with a focus on mental health. He said that once the research was complete he would like to present it to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The head of Local Authority Building Control (Paul Everall) was another person I interviewed who now has a copy as has Diane Marshall, the head of technical services at NHBC. Both are industry elites in the field of Building Regulations. The thesis examiners suggested I publish it as either a conference paper or in a specialist journal.

Professional recognition

Professionally, the course research brought me to the attention of people at NHBC and I was asked to write their response to the Hackitt review on the Grenfell tragedy. The response to this terrible tragedy needed to be well thought through and sensitive to the many families affected. I was humbled to be asked and believe that I would never have had the opportunity to do this without having joined the course. In the interim Hackitt review, my work was quoted. I was also invited to sit on a DCLG group knowledge group on cladding.

There are some groups doing great things with regard to sustainability but I think the UK dropped the ball by getting rid of the code for sustainable homes. There are opportunities that were missed and at the moment the construction industry is the driver of the sustainability standards rather than the legislation leading which, I think, is the wrong way round. Cost pressures on building homes remain as does the myth that sustainable homes cost more to build, so that’s also something we’ve got to address. That said, there’s a lot to be hopeful about across the industry but we’re not quite there yet.

A new role

Studying the IDBE has been the professional highlight of my life so far. It has benefitted my own career, the value I’ve been able to bring to the organisation and helped me to grow personally and professionally. I would recommend the course to anyone.


The part-time IDBE Master’s is structured around emerging trends, opportunities, and challenges within the built environment including sustainability and resilience, health and well-being, energy, efficiency, conservation and heritage and stakeholder engagement. Find out more and apply here.

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Gary Cass

Gary Cass is the central area Regional Operations Manager for Aedis Regulatory Services Ltd, an Approved Inspector and Structural Warranty provider that oversees Building Regulations compliance on a national level. Prior to this he spent four years at NHBC as their lead Building Regulations trainer.

Gary is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers, a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Building and a Member of the Chartered Institute of Management.

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Guest articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.