Articles Conservation People & Places

A Year in the Life of a SAHC Student

7 December, 2021 4 min reading
Dhairya Patel

A Year in the Life of a SAHC Student

What started as a year of uncertainty due to the world pandemic situation, turned into one which I will not soon forget.


Between September and October 2020, eleven students passionate about architectural and structural heritage began the SAHC course. Although it was a smaller than usual class, the wealth of different cultures, talents, and values made the learning experience just as great.



Initially what attracted me to SAHC was the breadth of knowledge I would gain, ranging from conservation principles to complex structural analysis techniques.


Every aspect of the program is taught for the purpose of making sure that the students become professionals with the ability to accurately conserve an existing heritage structure, from start to finish.


There is a good balance between technical and practical learning, and the incredible international teaching staff makes sure of this. Equal importance is given to classroom learning and on-site/laboratory learning. I believe this is very important as it is crucial to know how to apply the knowledge gained.


My experience was enriched by the fact that through the shared assignments and activities, my classmates soon became my second family.


We developed sincere friendships in and out of the classroom. We explored our new hometown, Guimarães, together. We celebrated our birthdays and holidays together. We even taught each other the customs and traditions of our respective countries. Many of us traveled together throughout Portugal (while being COVID safe) and made unforgettable memories along the way.


One of my favourite memories is travelling to the south of Portugal and celebrating Christmas with some of my SAHC family.


During the course of SAHC, two major projects are completed as part of the program: the integrated project, and the dissertation.


The integrated project is one of the most exciting parts of the SAHC program. It allows you to apply the skills obtained in class to a real-life project over a span of eight months. My group was tasked with performing a case study on the multi-hazard vulnerability and risk analysis of the historic city center of Tomar.


We evaluated more than 500 buildings using index-based methodologies for assessing the flood and seismic vulnerability of the buildings. Retrofitting strategies were also analyzed to visualize the effects that interventions would have on the hazard risks in the city center.




After completing all the courses and the integrated project, it is time to begin the dissertation. Although this time of the program is intense, it is very rewarding as well.


It gives you a chance to apply all of the knowledge gained to a project from start to finish. I completed my dissertation at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona. For my dissertation, I focused on the seismic analysis of a mixed timber-masonry structure called the West Mill in Smiths Falls, Canada.


My thesis was aimed at gaining a better understanding of the behavior of mixed timber-masonry structures through a case study using numerical simulation. Numerical models of the West Mill were created using the Finite Element Modelling (FEM) software DIANA.


Pushover analyses were run on the models to capture the envelope of the seismic response for the structure. A parametric analysis was also conducted to determine the influence of different elements in the structure.


SAHC has prepared me to make a meaningful contribution in the heritage conservation field as an engineer. Soon, I am going to start working at WJE’s DC office as an Architectural Engineering Associate. The knowledge and experience I gained from doing the SAHC program undeniably made me a strong candidate for the position I am about to start.


Last by not least, SAHC has also given me the opportunity to make some amazing lifelong friends from around the world. I will forever be grateful to SAHC for a great and unforgettable experience.



SEE ALSO: What is like to be a SAHC student?