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Talking Grand Schemes with Kevin McCloud

The Design Hub has had the pleasure of talking to Grand Designs creator and eco building champion Kevin McCloud. Since it first aired in 1999, Grand Designs has had eleven series’, and as one of the UK’s most successful design programmes it shows no signs of stopping. Besides several spin offs, including the popular Grand Designs Live exhibitions, writing books and raising a family, Kevin has also entered into the world of construction with his company Hab (Happiness – Architecture – Beauty). Taking time out from his busy schedule, here is what he had to say:

 

DH: From your experience of working with the construction industry what do you think the barriers are regarding the use of sustainable designs and materials when building new homes?

KM: Though there are some fantastic things going on in the industry; there are some developers who have fully embraced sustainability and all it entails and all it means. One of the first problems within those camps is it is very hard to get the rank and file to join in. It’s very easy for the board and the senior management to buy-in, but to actually get buy-in further down the chain is harder and that’s because the wider industry is still pretty anti ‘green’ and to admit that you like building ‘green’ is tantamount to admitting your gay, and as far as I can see nobody in construction is gay. It’s one of those few primitive parts of the world which is yet to catch up the 20th century and it’s a shocking thing I’m afraid. It’s just a bizarrely macho male dominated thing, there are no women working in construction, it is a very very primeval world. I work in it, I’ve worked in it and I continue to work it and I’m repeatedly shocked by the attitudes within it, and I’m not talking about the Directors of companies. I’m talking about builders, I’m talking about the ground workers, the sub contractors. It’s a very gung ho world and as a result, anything that hints at namby pambyism is considered as highly suspicious. I’m talking about the industry in its widest sense here, there are pockets of good guys out there. Some companies are really trying to change these entrenched views, but others are less enthusiastic. For what I’ve done I meet with quite a lot of suspicion from large developers; but you know, I’ve been slagging them off for years.

DH: Despite the growing imperative to build sustainably, why are housing developments like The Triangle the exception and not the rule? What needs to change?

KM: I don’t know how much of an exception it is actually, it’s a project we’ve been working on. We’re working on several more now and with more enlightened builders and I’m very pleased to say there are constructors out there who do understand our objectives and share them. We’ve got some big legislative targets coming up, like the 2016 Zero Carbon in Construction and the 2050 Zero Carbon Britain target. The 2016 is a big one and I think it’s fairly safe to say that the industry is not ready for it. It’s getting there and the professionals get it;  by which I mean the quantity surveyors , engineers and architects. The MD’s get it, but it’s the rank and file who don’t, it’s about getting that big culture change down to the root.

It’s a shame we can’t do more, but had we not been in recession there might have been a bigger change. I think at the moment the entire construction industry and development world is in crisis and shock and is need of therapy. On the one hand we needed this recession, this shock, but on the other hand had we not had it perhaps we’d be building more, and building more adventurously.

DH: Building eco homes is one thing, but what do you think the key to changing people’s behaviour is, with regards to living less environmentally impactful lives?

KM: You’re absolutely right, you can build an eco home, but you can’t control how someone lives in that home. The real interesting stuff and the culture change all happens in the public realm. My social housing partners Greensquare Group who I am working on schemes with in Stroud and in Swindon are really good at coaching residents and that’s very helpful and I think very much a part of working in communities. However the really interesting stuff is happening in the public realm. If you want people to have a car club, a bicycle club, an allotment, some food growing plans, or just sharing lifts and having a healthy environment for kids to play in and a green space which is good for the soul and promotes sociability; all this stuff, plus traffic management and rain water harvesting is all down to your landscape architects. We work with Luke Ableback, who is a great Landscape Architect. I firmly believe that good social sustainability happens in the public realm, it is down to your landscape architects. It’s quite a controversial idea because traditionally architect types took the credit for that.

DH: All the homes at The Triangle in Swindon include a touch screen device called a ‘Shimmy’. A bit like an iPad that monitors energy usage and useful local, community and travel information. What other sustainable home technology has impressed you in recent years and why?

KM: I’m not an enormous fan of technology, it has its purpose, but the more complicated you make a home, the more things there are to go wrong. It’s one thing to think as an enlightened home owner that that’s what you want to do with your life, it’s quite another thing when you start to push it on to other people, and at The Triangle I think we learnt that. We had systems which our engineers were really excited about but which our residents thought were less than fascinating, because unless you are an engineer you are not that interested in spending your evening sorting out your heating controls. So we should be making our homes very very straight forward and I think that was a big lesson there.

DH: In the spirit of making things simpler, what do you think about providing communal spaces for meetings, sharing meals etc, similar to co-housing principles?

KM: We looked at that, and it would be very interesting to be in a position where we could afford to provide huge sociable spaces on projects, and pre-recession these things were a little bit easier. On the scheme in Stroud we are putting in an allotment building which is a sort of social space, come vegetable selling space, come storage space, come shelter from the rain. The building is very plugged into its environment, into the allotment itself. It’s a very simple shelter and I really like the idea of making buildings which aren’t too flash, but do a really important job.

DH: The Grand Design Live shows do a lot to educate about sustainable materials, systems and products*. Do you think that schools and universities have a responsibility to teach students about sustainability as part of any design based course?

I think it’s beginning to happen. Sustainability is beginning to be woven into design courses as a principle of design. I wrote a book a few years ago called 43 Principles of Home in which I sort of took the Vitruviun principles of firmness, commodity and of delight and I added a fourth which is sustainable.  I think that all products, all things we make should be well made, durable and fit for purpose. They should be beautiful, delightful and fun to use. They should also have done the minimal amount of harm in their manufacture and design, and that’s a very hard thing to ask or to police but I think it’s a fundamental requirement which, as we move toward a more sustainable way of living, that all our products and environments are ecological in composition but in performance as well. Yeah, why not, it seems like a reasonable ask really.

With regards to the show, we keep plugging away at the green agenda, we are promoting green self build, we are promoting the Governments ‘Green Appeal’. We have a green trail around the show for visitors to follow. The promotion of sustainability has and will get bigger and bigger. When we first started it was a drum I was banging in the corner and now it underscores the whole exhibition, even the way we put the exhibition together because it’s assessed for its green credentials as an exhibition; we have waste management policies, waste is hand sorted if it is not pre-sorted by consumers. We have a lot of recycling of carpets and of the fixtures and fittings. As an exhibition it’s a very green event itself.

*For further information about design courses that feature sustainability as a core module, visit our education partner National Design Academy.

 

DH: With the rise in popularity of Interior Design as both a hobby and a career these days, do you think too much emphasis is being put on what the inside of a home looks like stylistically and not enough on how a home functions as a living space?

KM: Well that was what my book was about! I wrote 300 pages about people saying to me, ‘what’s fashionable? What’s trending at the moment?’ and I’d say ‘I have no idea’, and if I did it would be pointless me telling you because it will be out of fashion next week by the time you go to print.

Rem Koolhaas, the Dutch architect said there’s no point to try and be fashionable because it takes so long to do; it takes ten years to put a building together, so you know it’s out of date.

Taste changes with time and age, with socio-economic class. We all have different tastes, we all believe our taste is better than our neighbours and it’s not true. Buildings get torn down and skirt lengths get shorter and longer, but in the end the one thing I do know is that taste is a nonsense. Good quality design, a well made thing, quality of design and quality of manufacture; those things are tangible, you can recognise those, we can all recognise those. We all know a well made thing when we see it, handle it and use it, and it lasts, and that’s what matters. So I deliberately avoid all the questions about ‘trending’.

DH: You live in a 15th Century Farmhouse, have you had to make many compromises regarding retaining the original heritage features* of the property against modernising it for sustainable living?

No, not hugely. I’ve done that thing with an old building if you want it to be sustainable; I grow trees, I burn wood in wood burners and I heat it with a wood pellet burner. I put in Photovoltaic Thermal Panels connected to a heat pump for the central heating so that the system is relatively off the grid now and I’ve got the straight forward Photovoltaics as well. All these you’d consider retro fitted, the panels are all ground mounted. I’ve also been experimenting with one or two insulation products to see how well they perform in an old building. No, it hasn’t compromised the aesthetics or the historical narrative of the building at all. I put secondary glazing in but everything is reversible, its removable, I haven’t double glazed it, I’ve just put a secondary glazing panel in and… I wear pullovers.

*For further information about Heritage Interior Design courses, visit our education partner National Design Academy.



DH: What do you think the most valuable thing people can do to improve their homes is?

Spend the money on the bones for sure; on insulating it,  draft proofing, making it comfortable and then double insulating – because it’s money well spent; you can earn it back in a few weeks.

The other thing I like to see people spend money on is design. Services of professionals that make the project go well and be the most useful and beautiful thing it can be. I also think people should spend money on light switches and taps, and hand rails, and door handles; all the stuff you touch. Your lips can tell the difference between cut glass, fine cut lead crystal and cheap pressed glass. In just handling it you can feel the difference between porcelain and terracotta and you can tell the difference between a cheap, nasty cast handle and a beautifully made stainless steel European cast one. The hands, lips and finger tips are the most sensitive parts of the body, and after sight and smell the touch of our hands on objects is the most important way by which we judge them.

DH: Finally what do you think makes a design grand?

Very simple. It’s not money, it’s vision – and the vision can be extreme. It can be spending very little money on doing something outrageous or adventurous and with that vision always comes risk, the two are intertwined. Those are the key things; vision and risk, and they are inseparable.

Kevin McCloud is the ambassador for Grand Designs Live Birmingham (12th- 14th October 2012, NEC). This leading contemporary home show is based on the  popular TV program. For more information and to buy tickets visit www.granddesignslive.com or call the box office on 0844 854 1348.

If you missed Grand Designs Live in London back in May you can read my report here and part two here.

 

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Design a retro bin competiton!

Leading housewares brand Brabantia, world renowned for bringing stylish design to all aspects of kitchen and homeware, is delighted to announce a partnership with the National Design Academy (NDA).

This month Brabantia, supported by the NDA, launched a Design Your Bin competition to find an aspiring designer to create a new design for its 2013 Retro Bin range. The competition is open to all budding creatives throughout the globe – age, experience and location are no barriers.

David Slater, Sales Director at Brabantia, said: “We are delighted to be working with the creative talent from the UK’s largest and most prestigious interior design school.  Brabantia is in search of a world-class design that will go into production in 2013 and we are looking forward to seeing the creative concepts from the students at the National Design Academy.”

All students from the NDA who submit a design will enter a sub competition managed by the academy where the winning designer will receive a ‘one of a kind’ Brabantia retro bin featuring their bespoke design. To ensure your entry is included in the NDA sub comp you must email your design to pr2@nda.ac.uk as well as entering it on the main competition website (details below).

Anthony Rayworth, Director of Studies at NDA, said: “This is a fabulous opportunity for our students to show off their creative talents, and it offers a real challenge to be able to create  a design that will both stand out and work well in most kitchens. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the designs as they come in.”

The competition is also open to all members of the general public. Anyone with creative flair can submit a design – it could be a favourite photo, a piece of fine art, urban graffiti street art, or a detailed illustration or textile.  The winning design will go into production in 2013.

There are six categories: Modern art, Street art, Photography, Illustration, Textiles and handmade and Montage. Any medium will be accepted as long as it can be uploaded and reproduced digitally.  Designs need to be uploaded via www.designyourbin.com in JPG format by 10 June 2012.

As well as getting to see their design produced and on sale as part of Brabantia’s range next year, the overall winner selected by Brabantia’s international design panel will also receive a bin featuring their design and 1,500 Euros worth of Brabantia products.

Visitors to the Design Your Bin site are invited to vote for their favourite design. The designer with the most votes will win Brabantia products worth 1,000 Euros.

The winners of the six individual categories as selected by Brabantia’s design panel will each receive their choice of either a London or I’ve Bin Romantic Retro Bin.

All entries are displayed in the Gallery, where the general public can vote for their favourite designs. So what are you waiting for? Are you ready to join the ranks of the Brabantia designers?

Find out how to take part here.

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New year. New career?

“I wish I could make a living doing something I loved” – Sound familiar? Many of us think along these lines at the beginning of a new year; Christmas and New Year’s celebrations are over and people are faced with going back to a job that they most likely aren’t very excited about.

But that doesn’t have to be the case! The beauty of being a Human is that we can make choices and we can change things. It’s often just our insecurities that prevent us from taking the plunge, our overactive imaginations asking questions like: “What if I can’t make it in a new career?”, “What if I try it and don’t like it?”, “What if I don’t have time to study a new course?”

The problem is they are all negative “What if” questions, try asking yourself some positive “What if” questions too, like: “What if I start on the path to a new career and find it inspiring and rewarding?”, “What if I discover something new about myself?”, or “What if it makes my life more satisfying?”

The problem with asking yourself “What ifs?” is you can never truly know the answers unless you take a course of action, and with a change in career that often involves doing a course and re-educating yourself, which in itself is a scary prospect and adds to the negative “What ifs”.

Distance learning means that you can fit doing a course around your job and your home life, yes it will be hard work, but changing your career should be a challenge, albeit an enjoyable one.

The biggest “What if” around education at the moment is of course this years hike in enrolment fees; “What if I can’t afford to do the course?”, but if you are interested in learning Interior Design then I must remind you that if you enrol and start a degree course with our friends at distance learning college, The National Design Academy, before July this year, you will still receive government funding.

If you don’t qualify for a degree course yet, NDA also provide Level 3 Diploma’s in Interior Design from £395 that anyone can do and then progress on to a degree. If you are unemployed and receiving benefits the diploma is only £105.

I know I’ve gone on about this before, but if money is an issue (when is it not?) then now is the time to decide if you can start on the path to a new Interior Design career, because it might never be this cheap to study Interior Design in the UK again.

More information about funding and course fees at The National Design Academy can be found here and here.

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Baby, it’s cold outside

Despite the Indian Summer experienced in much of England this autumn, I am afraid to say that winter’s icy grasp is beginning to take hold. But don’t let the cold, dark nights get you down, take some inspiration from the autumnal palette and think of all those opportunities to create warm and cosy interiors.

A good place to start when thinking about increasing the heat in a home is to replace those light summery curtains or blinds with long, thick, multi layered fabric that will help to insulate and prevent drafts, but also naturally create a feeling of warmth through its colour and texture.

A study by the Glasgow Caledonian University in 2008 showed that a pair of thick curtains reduces heat loss through a single pane window by 14% and the combination of double glazing and curtains by a huge 66%.

Winter curtains are usually made up of at least two layers. The face fabric (chosen for its colour/pattern) and back lining layer, which can be made of plain, thermal or a blackout cotton material. A plain lining will offer small amounts of thermal insulation but primarily help the curtains to hang nicely and protect the face fabric from sunlight damage.  A thermal lining is a coated cotton lining that will provide more insulation.  A blackout lining will prevent the most heat loss of the three but also prevents any light from passing through the curtain material; ideal for bedrooms where ambient street lights might disturb a good sleep.

For the ultimate insulation however, a three layer curtain is required. These curtains have an extra cotton wool like interlining layer sandwiched between the front and back layers – I’m sweating just thinking about it.

But it’s not just curtains that can help keep in the heat. For a more minimalist alternative, energy saving blinds can be used. There are a wide variety available, ranging from roller blinds made with a metallic fibre woven into the fabric, to clever honeycomb designs that trap warm pockets of air.

Regardless of which window treatment best suits you or your clients, being able to create your own curtains, blinds and other soft furnishings is a very useful skill that can add value and save money.  For an affordable and flexible place to learn how to create your own soft furnishings, you need look no further than with the National Design Academy’s Diploma in Professional Curtain Making and Soft Furnishings course. For more information,  have a look at the website www.nda.ac.uk

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Not got the A Level grades you wanted? There’s still hope!

Today for many students will be one of the most nerve racking times of their life. I went through the experience myself, driving the six miles to college to pick up my results felt like the earth had stood still for ten years. Butterflies were fighting in my stomach and my mind was racing,  just hoping I’d managed to secure a place at my first choice university.

Clearing was a thought a little to scary to ponder on! The worst part was seeing students from across the country live on television, opening their white envelopes and screeching the letters “ABB!”

The pressure young people are under to excel and perform within our education system is choking, especially with the prospect of our future generation leaving with an average of £50,000 debt strapped around their neck! It’s shocking to learn that over a quarter of a million students will be without a place this academic year and universities on average only offering 80 places through clearing. But there is hope…

The removal of government funding has had a positive effect in exposing alternative routes to higher education to students, which have been available for many years and arguably offer higher levels of support to students compared with traditional universities.

One of which is the National Design Academy in Nottingham, who’ve been providing Diploma to Degree level Interior Design courses through distance learning, for over twenty-two years! They’re also the first and only UK educational provider to offer BA (Hons) in Retail, Heritage and Outdoor Living Design. It’s also the last chance to secure a place with the NDA before all funding disappears.

So if you’ve had your heights set on studying interior design at university and haven’t quite got the grades, this could be the perfect, less costly and equally recognisable way to gaining that qualification you want. All you need is one A-Level in art to be able to enrol on the Degree program which consists of a Foundation Degree course (equivalent to years 1&2 of a university degree) and then the BA Hons level (equivalent to year 3).

There’s no need to panic, you will reach your goal! All the Degree courses provided by NDA are fully accredited by Staffordshire University, internationally recognised and delivered online. Not to mention that they have a team of highly skilled tutors available five days a week from 9-5 to give you advice over the phone or through email.

Studying with the National Design Academy gives students the opportunity work at a pace that suits them and also offers those wanting to gain valuable work experience the opportunity to do so. It’s widely understood that industry experience is highly regarded by employers as very important.

To find our more about how you can still achieve a Degree in Interior Design contact the NDA on 0115 91234 12 to speak to a member of the team or visit their website www.nda.ac.uk.

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Our Panasonic experience at Pinewood Studios

As the economy seems to falling back into decline and markets all over the world severely suffering, there is one sector which is lucky enough to have been given a recession-free pass. The technology industry is growing at a fast rate especially in parts of Asia and one brand, Panasonic has taken this opportunity to expand its “techi savvy” product range and sprinkle the UK with a bit of Japanese living star dust.

Based at the bustling Pinewood Studios in London, the Panasonic Experience Studio was set up 8 weeks ago to give businesses and people the chance to sample their latest range of retail screens, 3D televisions, interactive plasma’s and 2012 Olympics range.

The National Design Academy tutor team, Directors, NDA Private Clients Manager and of course myself (not wanting to miss out on anything exciting) made the trip to Panasonic’s studio to see first hand what all the fuss was about and how this latest technology would be stitched into the Interior Design industry.

As we made our way up to the studio, my camera was out and ready to get snappy happy and the group were becoming extremely excited to see what was in store. As soon as we stepped into the hallway before entering the studio, gasps and oooo’s were exhaled and a rush of bodies proceeded to the corner.

A brilliant sales tool on Panasonic’s part, they had cleverly placed a tall interactive screen in the corner of the room (above) that allowed a person to manoeuvre and manipulate what showed on screen – it reminded me of something from CSI Miami! In fact, this screen is similar to those which will be distributed around London during the 2012 Olympic games as information guides. Everyone was hooked by this point.

We were then ushered into the main studio which was nearly pitch black, except for spots of bright flickering screens lining the edges of the room. I was rather impressed with the trio of towering screens lacing the back wall, with what appeared to be the angels from the Lynx adverts trying to smash their way out of the screens.

The group were shown an rather impressive 103 inch plasma screen, fully interactive and used by Sky Sports presenters in the studio. This big boy has up to 6 points of contact, can use live feeds and uses infrared technology to follow contact, which means you don’t even have to touch the screen to use it! For roughly £50,000 smackers you could have one of these all to yourself!

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NDA National Design Award shortlist – Katherine Charles

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NDA National Design Award shortlist – Karen Lane

 

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NDA National Design Award shortlist – Julian Potts

 

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Shortlist Erika Davies’ NDA National Design Award 2011 submission

 

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