Kevin McCloud’s greenest Grand Design

Well known as a writer, broadcaster and designer, Kevin McCloud is also a fearless campaigner for social sustainability in home building. On the eve of Grand Designs Live, he spoke to Samantha Baden about his upcoming projects

Kevin McCloudAs the presenter of TV show Grand Designs, Kevin McCloud can spend months with people who are in the process of realising their most audacious building dreams. But it wasn’t until he finally completed his own grand design, in the form of a sustainable housing development called The Triangle in Swindon, that the writer, broadcaster and designer, experienced  the thrill of success first hand.

“It’s sort of the definition of a great achievement,” the affable McCloud says about his building project. “It will be hard to top it really.”

The angle on The Triangle
Residents moved into The Triangle’s 42 homes in Swindon late last year. Not only is the development sustainable through rain water harvesting, air sourced heat pumps and low water usage fixtures, but there are also shared polytunnels, veg beds and edible hedgerows to bring the community together.

With residents now coming to grips with their new homes, you’d be forgiven for expecting McCloud to sit back, take a breather and digest his achievement. But he isn’t the type to rest on his laurels. Through his firm Hab, which stands for Happiness Architecture Building, and its joint venture called Hab Oakus with the housing group GreenSquare, the TV presenter is working on three further developments with, what he calls, a “social sustainability” focus.

“Social sustainability is about human beings - it’s about people, it’s not about hempcrete,” McCloud explains in reference to the highly insulating building material made from the hemp plant that was successfully used at The Triangle. “It’s great when people know about hempcrete - that it’s a carbon positive material - but really what interests me is people’s behaviour and how we can help people to share things.”

The Triangle under constructionCommunity matters
And that’s key for McCloud. The driving force behind The Triangle and his upcoming projects is to put community front and centre of every design. Hab Oakus, he says, has residents’ interests at heart “and that’s what it’s about - making fertile ground for communities and not simply just building boxes”.

The implication of McCloud’s statement is that other developers – even those that talk of green communal areas, local libraries and medical centres – aren’t delivering enough for communities.

“I think most developers and builders are still into building boxes and we’ve got to move to a position where we start making places,” McCloud says. “We’re place makers, we’re engineers of place and of community, that’s what we’re trying to create or at least create the fertile ground for.”

What's in the pipeline?
Hab Oakus is scheduled to break ground on the former Cashes Green hospital site next month where he will build 78 new homes in Stroud along with allotments, communal kitchen gardens and wildlife areas.

Kevin McCloud at The TriangleThe company is also in the process of consulting with local residents on a three site project that would deliver 109 homes in Oxford; and a further site in Gorse Hill in Swindon where 241 homes could be built.

But it’s not all smooth sailing, especially in Gorse Hill where a number of resident groups oppose the scheme because they claim it will essentially convert open space into a housing development – albeit one that aims to be sustainable.

Winning over the critics
“We’ll always face opposition,” says McCloud. “And our view has been in Oxford, as it was in Stroud, to involve local residents in the design, change the design correspondingly and hopefully win them round. And that process is reasonably collaborative with residents, it involved around four to six months work and several meetings.

“With the Gorse Hill project, if that comes off – we’re still waiting to hear – we plan to have a much more extensive and deeper consultation process.”

Discussions with the local community are key to a successful development, he says, but the system can make this a challenge. “The great problem with development is that one negotiates in good faith with landowners and councils and agencies. By the time you get to speak to residents – the numbers are a done deal. It would be lovely to start the process by working with communities and residents.”

In the meantime, McCloud, through Hab Oakus is staying focussed on building homes for people with the hope that where he leads, the others will eventually follow.

Design guru Kevin McCloud returns to London’s Excel between 5 – 13 May 2012 as host of Grand Designs Live - the innovative home improvement, self-build and design show.  The show boasts over 500 exhibitors across 7 different sections and offers free consultations and inspiration for both home owners looking for new design and renovation ideas and aspiring self-builders looking for advice for their very own Grand Design. Book now http://www.granddesignslive.com/ or call 0844 854 1348. Kids go free.

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    We’re place makers, we’re engineers of place and of community, that’s what we’re trying to create